Madeloni and others blast “testocracy” and promote joyful schools at CPS event

Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian told a story about a public official telling Hagopian’s 5-year-old child and others enrolled in a new two-way bilingual education program that they were fortunate to be at that school because “it will help you compete in the global marketplace.” Is that really what 5-year-olds are thinking about? And is it really the main purpose of a public school education?

More Than a ScoreFor Hagopian, leader of a successful test boycott at Seattle’s Garfield High School and editor of the new book “More than a Score, this story underscored the need for more public discussion about the real purpose of public schools.

If the goal is to produce workers who can do “rote jobs for multinational corporations,” then test-driven instruction may be a good choice, he said. But if it is to help students become thoughtful, compassionate and productive citizens capable of addressing the huge challenges facing the world today, then the focus should be on collaboration, discovery and problem solving.

The current “testocracy,” Hagopian said, “is killing creativity and teaching our kids that making a mistake is a horrible transgression.”

Jesse Hagopian
Jesse Hagopian
Hagopian was speaking to more than 100 participants at an event sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools at the First Parish Church in Cambridge on Dec. 4. He was joined by MTA President Barbara Madeloni, Fair Test Director Monty Neill, early childhood educator, author and activist Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Rhode Island student activist Tim Shea.

Madeloni said that judging students and their teachers by students’ scores on standardized tests is “narrowing our idea of what it means to be human.” She said that low-income children of color are the main victims of the current testing and accountability juggernaut.

“Why is it black and brown children whose schools are being shut down?” she asked.

Monty Neill
Monty Neill
Neill, the longtime director of the Boston-based National Center for Fair & Open Testing – better known as FairTest – said that the good news is there is a real national backlash against the excessive focus on testing. Over the past two years, he said, seven states have voted to end or delay their high school graduation tests, and many others are cutting back on the use of tests to determine grade promotion.

FairTest and CPS are helping to advance that movement in Massachusetts through an initiative dubbed less testing, more teaching.” The MTA is engaged in similar efforts, currently by reaching out to members on this issue and others at local forums that are being held across the state.

Carlsson-Paige, a noted early childhood education advocate from Cambridge, said that educators have long known what research proves: that young children learn best in a “play-based” environment. She called new assessments for young children “bizarre.”

Carlsson-Paige was highly critical of the authors of the Common Core State Standards for failing to take input from early childhood educators. As a result of that failure, she said, they ended up with some standards that are “wildly developmentally inappropriate.”

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Nancy Carlsson-Paige
She and other teachers said that the focus on accountability at all grade levels “is a diversion from the real issues of income inequality and poverty,” which are the main drivers of low student performance.

Shea, now a freshman at Harvard, described how he and other members of the Providence Student Union organized against a state plan to institute a high school graduation test. Shea said that an estimated 70 percent of students at his urban high school were expected to fail the test.

In one of several creative actions, the students dressed as zombies and marched on the state education department to protest the “zombification” of their education. In another, students invited 50 volunteers – including state legislators, attorneys and government officials – to take the graduation test. Sixty percent of them failed.

Barbara Madeloni
Barbara Madeloni

In the end, the students and their allies were able to persuade the Rhode Island General Assembly to adopt a three-year moratorium on the graduation test requirement.

Several of the speakers talked about how gratifying it is to work with others to defend the kind of education they support.

Too often, said Madeloni, teachers experience “a real sense of aloneness in the struggle.” The goal, she said, is to build a movement. “In solidarity, there is a sense of hope and strength and community and joy,” she said.

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