When “Advance” Really Hit Home: The Very Human Cost of High Stakes Testing

October 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

By: Dan Lupkin
Special Education Teacher/ UFT Delegate
P.S. 58, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

My students did not take the news about the Performance Assessment well. In fact, it was kind of a wrenching experience- their faces could not have been more pained if I had run over their dogs.  I told them that it would not count on their report cards, that it would not affect their middle school prospects, and that if they did their best, I would be proud of them. Still, there was a lot of anxiety, and an unplanned Q & A session that went well beyond morning meeting time. I didn’t want to scare them, but nor did I want to lie, and there is no getting around the nature of what they would be asked to do. I got questions like “can I ask for help with hard words?” and “what if I don’t know what to write?” that I had no reassuring answers for.

The Performance Assessments thrust upon nearly all students in certain grades and selected students in others are similar to what my kids dealt with on last year’s New York State Common Core tests. Two complex texts, and a prompt calling upon my students to synthesize both texts into an essay. I am called upon to turn off all my training and experience and pretend that these are tasks at which my students can realistically be expected to succeed.

My students had great difficulty with the pre-Common Core tests, but this past year’s testing debacle in New York State left them dealing with texts and tasks several years above grade level standards. I teach a self-contained special education class, and my students, though a diverse set of learners, tend to lag at least two years behind academically in most subject areas.  We’re realistically talking about a minimum 4+ year academic year gap between my students and what they’re being asked to do.  If I designed an assessment so invalid, so cruel, for my own students, I would be perceived as a maniac and possibly brought up on disciplinary charges, and rightly so.

There is no pedagogical scaffolding provided with these assessments, and although my students have IEP’s which come with testing modifications, none of them (which I assiduously provided) made these tasks any more accessible to my students. Asking them to do take these tests is absurd and  tells me nothing of value educationally, it just terrorizes and humiliates them. There is no reason to give these tests other than to evaluate me, their teacher.

Part of the core responsibilities of teachers in general, but especially special education teachers, is to be advocates for our students. We have a professional obligation to defend their interests. We work with students with a range of disabilities, some of whom are among the most vulnerable kids in our society.

If I teach a class of 4th and 5th graders and this is how it is, I can only imagine what is happening in the early elementary grades, where children have not yet  been desensitized to standardized testing. High-Stakes Testing and the new teacher evaluation system are inseparable, and these Performance Assessments constitute exhibit A. These tests have little to no value as formative assessments, especially for my students. They are solely being used to evaluate teachers. This testing regime is tantamount to child abuse, and our elected leaders have made us, as educators, complicit against our wills.

I say enough.

The proponents of this sort of inhumane behavior are definitely Goliath to our David in this story, but we cannot allow the Michael Bloombergs and Pearsons of the world to bully us into silence. We cannot consent to this dehumanizing testing regime without doing everything within our power to slay this giant. I am working with the Movement of Rank and File Educators towards a moratorium on this absurd teacher evaluation system in the short term, but longer term, we aim to reverse the damage that this era of corporation-driven, privatization-oriented brand of “school reform” has wrought.

As for my students, I have given them each a pair of neon green shoelaces. As a class, we are participating in Lace to the Top, a national movement of solidarity between teachers, students, and parents, predicated on a very simple idea: students mean more than a test score. The best we can do for our students and children is build community, and the laces have done just that- the staff is resplendent in neon green, too!

The “Advance” teacher evaluation system, and High Stakes Testing more generally, seek to divide, to sift, to categorize, and to reduce the children, educators, and schools of this nation to data points on a graph. We must resist this push, join with our colleagues and communities to form a united front, and let each and every victim of this madness know that they are not alone. In solidarity there is  comfort, but there is also strength.

We would never stand by and watch our students being picked on by a stronger child; why would we allow them to be terrorized by politicians and billionaires?

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One response to When “Advance” Really Hit Home: The Very Human Cost of High Stakes Testing


    This a disgrace from the top; or maybe from the slop. It’s like telling a 5’8 guy he should be able to dunk a basketball. They want these kids to reach for the stars, but they have to jump off a ladder without a safety net. This really has to be a # 1 priority along with the use of these HSTs in our evaluations. Well maybe they’ll do so poorly that at the end of the year you’ll have an infinite growth score. Seriously, if anyone needs encouragement and positive reinforcement, it’s self contained classes. Hope you speak up at Sat. meeting.

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