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Lily Eskelsen's picture

It was a powerful thing to see thousands of us on the Ellipse of the Mall with the White House in the background and the Capitol down the road.

It was powerful for the very fact that it started as the idea of a group of education bloggers who have for so many years called for a return to sanity – the radically sane idea of using test scores to measure no more than what they were designed to measure.
teacher rally in Washington
So many of us over the years have called for a rejection of the insanity of making stuff up and pretending that some standardized test is all you need tell the worth of a child, her teacher or an entire school system.

When test scores go up, we do not applaud. When test scores go down, we do not gnash our teeth and look for villains.

We are teachers and education support professionals and we know that neither celebrations nor Salem witch trials are called for based on a single standardized test which measures so very little of what a child will need to know to succeed in today’s world (or yesterday’s world or even tomorrow’s world.)

The brave sweating educators and parents at the rally were protesting a growing cancer on education – the bulbous growth in standardized testing.

The politicians on both sides of the aisle are out of control on this one. And it is politicians. There are no credible researchers, academicians nor educators who will, with a straight face, stand and defend the misuse of test data. It is a political invention from start to finish.

They have appropriated beautiful words like “accountability” and changed the definition to “blame the teacher”; and “standards” means standardized test score; “merit” means prizes for getting test scores up. They have so abused these good words that good teachers can no longer use them.

The abuse of testing data has hurt children. Abuse is not too strong a word. It is abuse because it ignores the whole and blessed child and entire systems are turning and spinning and accommodating themselves around a test score that is not valid and not reliable and is only pretending to measure what it was never designed to measure.
teacher at protest
And that means teachers do not have the proper information they need to guide their instruction. It means parents do not have the proper information they need to know how well their children are progressing. Universities do not have the proper information they need to know if students are prepared to succeed.

And students themselves feel like total failures when they are highly successful in areas that are not subject to standardization, which, by the way, are the most important areas of learning. Or worse, students feel like total successes when they are not highly successful in areas that are not subject to standardization, which, by the way, are the most important areas of learning.

Some of my colleagues have felt so disrespected and discouraged that their pleas for sanity have gone unheard – that we measure appropriately what can be measured and we use the information to guide our instruction, not to give or deny bonus pay to teachers or to crack the whip on students who do not make their number.

Educators have become Alice trying to make sense of the Queen of Hearts yelling, “Off with their heads!” for not painting the white roses red quickly enough so that our schools at least look good on paper. Some of my dearest friends have quit teaching because they will not cheat their students from a real education, and in good conscience, they leave.

But thousands and thousands and thousands stay. Magnificent educators who also will not cheat their students. In good conscience they stay. And they stand. And they fight. They came to the Mall to rally against the insanity.

They held signs that said, “My students are more than a test score,” and “Save our Schools”. They came to stand in 100 degree heat and listen to people who knew what they were talking about: Jonathan Kozol, Linda Darling Hammond, Diane Ravitch.

They came to hear parents and colleague and members of the caring community tell them to stand strong and shout the truth until they were heard.

As I always do, I will say again, educators are not against giving their students tests. We are teachers. We invented tests. But we will never stand silently and condone the abuse of test data from some single standardized world to judge, punish and reward students, teachers, principals or entire systems.

Tests are limited in the information they give. We have always understood that. That’s why good teachers have an array of assessment tools. When you narrow the measurement of success or failure, you narrow the truth. When you narrow the truth of what success or failure means, it distorts reality and hurts very real children. The people who came to the rally will not let that happen.

The people, who in good conscience stay, will in good conscience fight.

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