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Protesting high-stakes testing

By Zephyr Teachout
April 27, 2016

Recently parents and teachers across New York State kicked off another year of protest against high-stakes testing.

I support them.

The idea of a high, “Common Core” standard of education is appealing. We should be striving for excellence in our public schools so that every child can be guaranteed a great education. But kids aren’t widgets and you cannot manufacture learning. The Common Core curriculum subjects students and teachers to a crude and counterproductive metric of success.

That’s why in 2015, roughly 20% of all eligible New York students opted out. That’s more than 200,000 third- to eighth-graders and a four-fold increase from the year before.

It’s important to understand how we got here.

In 2008, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates decided to take charge of our education policy. He gave more than $200 million to an organization called “Achieve and the National Governors Association” to develop a uniform measure of scholastic achievement. The system is based on high-stakes tests, designed and administered by private testing corporations.

As education historian Diane Ravitch notes, it’s “the closest thing to an educational coup in the history of the United States.”

Opting out is a fundamental part of resistance to that coup—resistance to the power and influence of private companies in our schools.

And it works. Because of grassroots pressure last year, we were able to change federal policy, which no longer requires states to implement high-stakes testing in the same way. But we still have work to do. I respect every parent’s right to make the best decision for their child, but I believe that refusing the test is about the future of public education and about making a collective commitment to classrooms and schools where every child is treated as an individual.

The stories I hear about high-stakes testing are disturbing: children taken ill due to stress while teachers lose enthusiasm for a job they love because they have no time to teach. Instead of developing rigorous lesson plans to instill learning, teachers must spend hours instructing students how to answer multiple-choice questions. And many teachers, including special education teachers, report that students and colleagues alike are reduced to tears over the testing regime that demands so much of their energy and focus.