by Tim Reed
The release of confidential memos showing that Michelle Rhee, Students First founder and CEO and former Chancellor of DC Public Schools, was made aware of widespread cheating on standardized tests as early as 2009 but made no attempt to discipline the cheaters, is prompting parents and educators to take a second look at public schools’ overreliance on standardized testing. While only a single teacher was let go for cheating, Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores, sending a strong message that her priority was higher test scores at any cost.
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When educators and administrators are forced to focus on test scores — often those of students they don’t even teach — they are placed in a position where they have no choice but to sacrifice individual student learning and take a “teach to the test” approach in order to meet arbitrary standards. Educators, students, and parents all know that students are not one-size-fits-all, and forcing all students to take the same standardized tests can be detrimental to special education students and English language learners. It also leads to decreased learning for all students as differentiated learning is sacrificed in the name of high scores above all else.
This overreliance on testing forces teachers to focus simply on teaching to those students whose test scores may improve, leaving behind those with no chance to pass, and ignoring those who are operating above grade level. Recently, we have seen a spate of protests from parents, educators and students across the country who are speaking out against the dangers of standardized tests, and calling for a return to student-centered learning.
Educators know that focusing on the individual is the best way to encourage true learning, and that students, parents and educators deserve high-quality, teacher-developed assessment tools. Demands from educators, parents, students and concerned citizens to return to these basic values will encourage administrators like Rhee to focus on punishing the cheaters, rather than educators who are simply trying to educate each and every one of their students.
You can get involved in this movement by rating the assessments your students are required to take at Teach Plus’ Assessment Advisor. Your comments on these tests will help administrators and elected officials make decisions on which tests are truly valuable to help student learning. Off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all tests have to go, and educator voices will lead the charge in this debate.