The members of the Task Force have done an excellent job of explaining the problems caused by high stakes tests. Speak-outs were held in each borough so that teachers, parents, and community members could voice their opinions on this issue. This was a great way for UFT members to be heard. ICE supports most of the recommendations, in particular the concept that the major purpose of standardized tests is that teachers should use them as a guide to make educational judgments about individual children. However, we do have a few reservations.
Unfortunately, the report does not call for an end to sanctions for schools that are deemed in need of improvement. This should be a priority. Schools don't improve by punishment; they improve with support and resources. The only legitimate function of NCLB is to identify areas of need and provide help.
The UFT must emphasize the role high stakes tests have in lowering rather than raising standards. By eliminating curriculum that doesn't appear on tests, "dumbing down" the actual exams, emphasizing tricks to get the right answer instead of mastering skills and knowledge, stifling creativity, fostering a cynical attitude toward learning, high stakes tests have the effect of providing an inferior education in both the short and the long run.
Expanding the role of the nationally based NAEP (the proficiency levels are set very high for the political purposes of bashing schools) as a random assessment can be mis-used by those calling for a nationally based high stakes test.
UFT members must know they will be supported by the UFT for speaking out against the over-use and, at times, abuse of testing in our schools. Teachers need whistle blower protection.
NOW we need a call to action. If NCLB is not changed, our schools will face more sanctions and will increasingly be turned into test prep factories. The Task Force report calls for forums for educators and meetings with the DOE, State Education Department, and the AFT. That is excellent. But now is also the time to activate UFT, AFT, and NEA members around the country to organize and let the politicians know that teachers do NOT support the reauthorization of NCLB in its present form. Ted Kennedy is Chair of the Committee that will reauthorize NCLB. At this time he does not support changing the high staking testing provisions in the Act. Senator Kennedy says he is a friend of our union and he spoke at last year's national AFT convention. Let's make sure he hears from us.
Issues to ponder: Will administrators continue getting bonuses for test scores? Will whistle blowers continue to be harassed and persecuted? Will the UFT refrain from political uses of the numbers game (i.e. trumpeting gains on tests to validate salary increases)? Will teachers who refuse to teach to the test face insubordination charges?
If you want to read and become more involved locally and nationally on these issues, here are a few resources.
ICE has set up a blog for the posting of articles and comments of interest at: http://highstakesonice.blogspot.com/
Time Out From Testing: NYC group against high stakes testing: http://www.timeoutfromtesting.org/
Fair Test, the national center for fair and open testing: http://www.fairtest.org/FEA_Home.html
Rethinking Schools: http://www.rethinkingschools.org/
http://www.susanohanian.org/. Susan is organizing a national teacher protest at the Educator Roundtable: http://www.educatorroundtable.org/. Join almost 30,000 teachers who have already signed the petition.