Who’s the William Wallace of testing: @JessedHagopian or Liz King?

Liz King

Liz King

Yesterday, Liz King, a Teach For America alum and policy analyst for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, led 12 civil rights organizations into a national battle against student and parents. She loves testing. Liz King believes taking a test is a “civil right” you are required to have. In contrast, hundreds of thousands of students across the nation have expressed the opposite by opting out of high-stakes testing as a protected form of constitutional political free speech. Who is right?

First, let’s start with Liz King’s leadership of national civil rights organizations on this issue.

How do I know that Liz King led these efforts. I have pasted a leaked email from DC below that I had before she released the press advisory entitled “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.09.13 AM

Liz King loves No Child Left Behind. She said so on the Equity Alliance Blog entitled 100% Proficient: The Most Important Accomplishment of NCLB. Let’s start there first. Why this title? For those of you scoring at home, NCLB promised that every student in the United States would be proficient by 2014 if we just tested and accountabilitied (just invented this word) them enough. At the time it was believed that Texas had used a decade of high-stakes testing to create an educational miracle and close the achievement gap on the TAAS test. In Houston, home of former US Secretary of Education Rod Paige, schools were publicly reporting 0% dropout rates  and graduation rates approaching 100%. We of course know that the Texas and Houston testing miracles were a façade uncovered by research and common sense. No one really believes anymore that Texas had an education miracle in the 1990s— which incidentally was the primary justification for George W. Bush and Rod Paige to import NCLB from Texas to every district across the United States.

Anyways, I find it curious that King would title her essay in this way because, well, NCLB failed at 100% proficiency spectacularly. I am a big fan of Luther, Obama’s anger translator. So, I am going to translate the seven paragraphs in her blog post. First, here is the post:

Liz King is Legislative Director for Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Pa).  She has worked in this office since 2005, prior to which she taught middle school in Philadelphia with Teach For America for two years.  In her current role she coordinates the Congressman’s legislative agenda and advises him on education, health and social policy.  She is passionately committed to improving access and outcomes in education and to ensuring that all students’ potential is realized.  She is especially excited about the changing American demographics and the potential to bring new thinking and new thinkers to old problems.  Believing that there should always be a strong link between practice and policy, Liz volunteers as a one-on-one tutor and as a classroom volunteer.  She holds a BA in Government and Religion from Wesleyan University and an MS in Elementary Education from St. Joseph’s University.

In 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law, it became official policy of the United States government that all students attending public schools (with the exception of students with the most significant disAbilities) meet grade level standards by the year 2014.  For the first time, the basic expectation most parents of middle class, White, typically abled children have of their neighborhood school now applied to all classrooms, schools and districts without adjusting for race, income, first language, or IEP.  I believe that this is the most important step towards real equity for all students at the federal level since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case desegregated schools in 1954.

While this clearly did not create full equity in access to an excellent education, and didn’t responsibility take into account how far many students, schools and districts were (and are) from this goal, or the incredible changes it would take to enable all students to meet this standard, it was a critical watershed moment.  Since its inception, our country has never taken seriously all that students in poverty, students of color and students with disAbilities have to offer.  This standard – universal proficiency – requires that educators and systems see beyond the biases that we all hold, and to expect the best of every student.

There is much that is said about the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  There are those who decry the outsized focused on school challenges instead of remedies, and those who celebrate the significant civil rights implications of disaggregated student performance data.  Beyond the well-known pros and cons, I believe the value of universal proficiency has been grossly overlooked, dismissed or misunderstood.

From the moment the law was signed, there were those who balked at the perceived absurdity of the 100% goal.  Surely that couldn’t include most students with disAbilities!  Or those learning English as a second language!  Or those living in poverty!

Those of us who are passionately committed to the limitless potential of all students, and who know too well the differentiation of expectations that condemns students in poverty and students of color to lower expectations and less rigorous instruction must defend this provision of the law as we look to the next reauthorization of NCLB.

There is good reason to be skeptical of the blunt, imperfect, and low-level assessments that most states currently use to measure what students know and are able to do.  We certainly need more sophisticated and meaningful measures that are truly able to discern what students have, and have not yet, learned.  We also need to make sure that the standards themselves represent what we want from a comprehensive, well-rounded education that prepares individuals to be successful and participate meaningfully in a globalized world.  These changes will take additional and reallocated resources, as well as a much better understanding than we have now of how to successfully improve and sustain schools that have not been serving students well for a very long time.

Even with improvements in assessment and curriculum that would benefit most students, we still need to find better ways to ensure that those students who are excluded from mainstream assessment are still meeting their own potentials.  In spite of the many challenges created by NCLB, and the many outstanding questions of equity, we cannot let the assertion that all students are capable of rigorous academic work fade away.  I realize that words alone do not drive improved instruction, change school cultures, or provide much needed resources, especially words tucked in a Federal law whose implementation often bears little resemblance to the purported ideals of its drafters.  We need to start somewhere, and given the despicable history of words written into Federal laws, universal proficiency is a much needed beginning.

My translation:

Paragraph 1 NCLB finally brought “middle class, White” values to Black and Brown kids. (wtf)

Paragraph 2 We “all hold” racist/biased beliefs and don’t think Black and Brown kids can score perfect on tests everywhere

Paragraph 3 NCLB is just misunderstood— like Justin Beiber (Okay, she didn’t say that last part #Beiberfever)

Paragraph 4 You are being racist again in your head. Just a reminder. You don’t like tests=you are racist.

Paragraph 5 Lots of testing for students of color must stay in reauthorization of NCLB.

Paragraph 6 The tests and standards aren’t so great so let’s spend more money on them. (cha-ching $$$)

Paragraph 7 We need to “start somewhere”, let’s go with more testing.

Really, I am at a loss for words. But this context helps me to understand why she would lead 12 civil rights organizations into a press statement yesterday that essentially restates these exact same arguments— just in more flowery language.

npe-vector-bannerThe Network For Public Education responded to Liz King’s press release. As a founding board member of NPE, I was asked to help craft the statement.

For Immediate Release

Robin Hiller Executive Director, Network for Public Education

Phone (520) 668-4634

Email  robin@networkforpubliceducation.org

Today, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights led 11 civil rights groups into a national disagreement with students who have exercised their constitutional political free speech rights and chosen to opt-out of high-stakes testing.

The Network for Public Education supports those who choose to opt out, because we believe these tests are now causing harm to students, and to the cause of educational equity. Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian has written a response to The Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights’ statement, which the Network for Public Education shares here. He states, “High-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.”

We support opting out of high stakes tests because:

  • There is no evidence that these tests contribute to the quality of education, have led to improved educational equity in funding or programs, or have helped close the “achievement gap”.
  • These tests, particularly those associated with the Common Core, have become intrusive in our schools, consuming huge amounts of time and resources, and narrowing instruction to focus on test preparation.
  • These tests have never been independently validated or shown to be reliable and/or free from racial and ethnic bias.
  • Instead the Common Core exams are being used as a political weapon to claim huge numbers of students are failing, to close neighborhood public schools, and fire teachers, all in the effort to disrupt and privatize the public education system.

Thus, the notion that subjecting students to high-stakes tests is a “civil right” is inherently misguided.

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and NPE board member stated, “The alleged benefit of No Child Left Behind and national required annual high stakes testing was to unveil the achievement gaps, and by doing so, close them. After more than a decade of high-stakes testing this never happened. Instead, thousands of neighborhood schools— the anchors of communities, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods — were closed and their students sent to another low performing and poorly resourced school much further away from their home.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights argued that data obtained through standardized tests are “the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes.” This statement is completely false. There is reliable disaggregated national data available from NAEP. There are a number of student outcomes available to consider the success of students, schools, districts, states and the nation. More importantly, we must pay closer attention to data that demonstrate the differences in opportunity between schools.

While persisting inequality between schools is our real challenge, the political framing supported by testing is instead a focus on the failure of our students and teachers in our public system. This rhetoric is then linked to school “reform” policies that have made the real agenda very clear—continuing to underfund schools and replace our locally controlled public school systems with privately controlled schools. Private control allows the opportunity to profit from equally under resourced and poor-performing charters, for-profit on-line schools, and vouchers for private schools (which opt-out of testing). Without democratic control, these schools are free to create a constant churn of temporary teachers whose work is largely reduced to worksheets and canned software programs for test preparation.

8979762_origThe Seattle NAACP recently urged parents to opt out of the SBAC test, and stated:

Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history.

It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians be accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.

The use of high-stakes tests has become part of the problem, rather than a solution. We reiterate our support for parents and students who choose to exercise their political free speech and opt out of high stakes tests, and call on our nation’s leaders to shift policies away from these tests. 

The Network for Public Education is an advocacy group co-founded by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society.

Jessie Hagopian

Jessie Hagopian

Yesterday I reblogged the Seattle NAACP stance against testing and support of opt out in the post “Opt out now”: The Seattle NAACP revives the legacy W.E.B Du Bois, demands an end to Common Core testing. You can watch the Seattle NAACP Press Conference video with Jesse Hagopian, teacher and national opt-out leader at http://sco.lt/6ScGuX. The Network for Public Education also released a statement from Jessie Hagopian. He stated,

Today several important civil rights organizations released a statement that is critical of the decision by many parents and students to opt out of high stakes standardized tests. Though we understand the concerns expressed in this statement, we believe high stakes tests are doing more harm than good to the interests of students of color, and for that reason, we respectfully disagree.

The United States is currently experiencing the largest uprising against high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s history. Never before have more parents, students, and educators participated in acts of defiance against these tests than they are today.  In New York State some 200,000 families have decided to opt their children out of the state test.  The largest walkout against standardized tests in U.S. history occurred in Colorado earlier this school year when thousands refused to take the end of course exams.  In cities from Seattle, to Chicago, to Toledo, to New York City, teachers have organized boycotts of the exam and have refused to administer particularly flawed and punitive exams.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to dismiss this uprising by saying that opposition to the Common Core tests has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Secretary Duncan’s comment is offensive for many reasons. To begin, suburban white moms have a right not to have their child over tested and the curriculum narrowed to what’s on the test without being ridiculed. But the truth is his comment serves to hide the fact that increasing numbers of people from communities of color are leading this movement around the nation, including:

!0_MORGUE_2008_MoneyStack001PSPYou would expect the multi-billion dollar testing industry not to celebrate this resistance. Conglomerates such as Pearson, the over 9 billion dollar per year corporation that produces the PARCC test, could stand to lose market share and profits if the protests continue to intensify. But it is unfortunate that more civil rights groups have not come to the aid of communities resisting the test-and-punish model of education. In a recent statement issued by the national leadership of some of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations, they wrote:

Data obtained through some standardized tests are particularly important to the civil rights community because they are the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes even while vigilance is always required to ensure tests are not misused.

We agree that it is vital to understand the disparities that exist in education and to detail the opportunity gap that exists between students of color and white students, between lower income students and students from more affluent families. There is a long and troubling history of schools serving children of color not receiving equitable access to resources and not providing these students with culturally competent empowering curriculum. Moreover, the schools are more segregated today than they were in the 1960s—a fact that must be particularly troubling to the NAACP that fought and won the Brown vs Board of Education desegregation decision. For these reasons, we understand why national civil rights organizations are committed to exposing the neglect of students of color.

Yet we know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.  This fact has been amply demonstrated through the experience of the past thirteen years of NCLB’s mandate of national testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. The outcomes of the NCLB policy shows that test score achievement gaps between African American and white students have only increased, not decreased. If the point of the testing is to highlight inequality and fix it, so far it has only increased inequality. Further, the focus on test score data has allowed policy makers to rationalize the demonization of schools and educators, while simultaneously avoiding the more critically necessary structural changes that need to be made in our education system and the broader society.

We also know that standardized testing is not the only, or the most important, method to know that students of color are being underserved; student graduation rates, college attendants rates, studies showing that wealthier and predominantly white schools receiving a disproportionate amount of funding are all important measures of the opportunity gap that don’t require the use of high-stakes standardized tests.

The civil rights organizations go on to write in their recent statement on assessment,

That’s why we’re troubled by the rhetoric that some opponents of testing have appropriated from our movement. The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation. They’ve raised the specter of White supremacists who employed biased tests to ‘prove’ that people of color were inferior to Whites.

There are some legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed. But instead of stimulating worthy discussions about over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and the misuse of test data, these activists would rather claim a false mantle of civil rights activism.

200px-How_the_Test_Was_WOnTo begin, we agree with these civil rights organizations when they write that over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and misuse of test data are “legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed”—and in fact we hope to hear more from these civil rights organizations about these very real and destructive aspects of high-stakes standardized testing.  Moreover, we believe that when these civil rights organizations fully confront just how pervasive over-testing, cultural bias and misuse of data is in the public education system, these facts alone will be enough to convince them join the mass civil rights opt out uprising that is happening around the nation. Let us take each one of these points in turn.

  • Over testing

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT, the second largest teacher’s union in the nation) conducted a 2013 study based on a analysis of two mid-size urban school districts that found the time students spent taking tests claimed up to 50 hours per year. In addition, the study found that students spent from between 60 to more than 110 hours per year directly engaged in test preparation activities. The immense amount of time devoted to testing has resulted in students in a constant state of preparation for the next high-stakes exam rather than learning the many skills that aren’t measured by standardized tests such as critical thinking, collaboration, civic courage, creativity, empathy, and leadership. The new Common Core tests are only in math and language arts and thus have served to skew the curriculum away from the arts, physical education, civics, social studies, science, music, and a myriad of other subjects that students of color are too often denied access to.

  • Cultural bias

Standardized tests have repeatedly been found to contain cultural biases. The process by which test questions are “normed” tends to eliminate questions that non-white students answer correctly in higher numbers. In New York, the number of Black students rated “below standard”jumped from 15.5% to 50% with the introduction of new Common Core tests. English learners did even worse – 84% tested “below standard” on the new tests. This sort of failure has devastating effects on students, and does not reflect their true abilities.

  • Violations of student privacy

Common Core tests are associated with the collection of unprecedented levels of data from individual students, with few safeguards for student privacy. These systems allow for-profit testing companies, and third party companies, access to information that could be used against the interests of students in the future.

However, if those problems weren’t enough there are a myriad of other ways that these high-stakes standardized tests are being used to perpetuate institutional racism.  Perhaps the most curious omission from their letter is the fact that they assert that, “The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation,” yet they offer no rebuttal of the assertion that the standardized tests today share many of the characteristics of the discriminatory exams of the past.  As a recent editorial by the social justice periodical Rethinking Schools asserted:

The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.

W. E. B. Du Bois in 1918

W. E. B. Du Bois in 1918

This is why some of the most prominent early voices of opposition to standardized testing in schools came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. Du Bois, one of the most important Black intellectuals in the history of the United States and a founding member of the NAACP, recalled in 1940, “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [first] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”

The great educator and historian Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote this statement that so clearly reveals one of the primary flaws of standardized testing that persist to this day:

But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.

Bond was expressing then what is today known as the “Zip Code Effect,”—the fact that what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture, resulting in wealthier, and predominately whiter, districts scoring better on tests. Their scores do not reflect the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students when compared to those of lower-income students and students of color, but do reflect the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read with them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, high-quality health care, and access to good food, to name a few. This is why attaching high-stakes to these exams only serves to exacerbate racial and class inequality.

This point was recently driven home by Boston University economics professors Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed.” In this peer-reviewed study they reveal that the increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams are linked to higher incarceration rates. This landmark study should be a clarion call to everyone interested in ending mass incarceration to end the practice of high-stakes exit exams in high school and work towards authentic assessments.

A July, 2010 statement authored by many of the same civil rights organizations that penned the aforementioned letter titled, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” stated:

The practice of tracking students by perceived ability is a major civil rights obstacle…Ideally, we must provide opportunities for all students to prepare for college and careers without creating systems that lead to racially and regionally identifiable tracks, which offer unequal access to high-quality.

We agree with this statement and thank these civil rights organizations for raising concerns about the terrible effects of tracking on the public schools and the detriment that tracking has been to Black students, other students of color, and low-income students.  We only want to emphasize that the standardized exams they are now defending are one of the most significant contributing factors to the tracking and racial segregation of students into separate and unequal programs and schools.

In that same “Framework” document the civil rights groups write:

Because public schools are critical community institutions especially in urban and rural areas, they should be closed only as a measure of last resort. And where a school district deems school closure necessary solely for budgetary or population reasons, the burdens cannot be allowed to fall disproportionately on our most vulnerable communities.

1006198_10151726519965970_1431081881_nAgain, we agree, but we want to point out that it is the use of test scores in labeling schools as “failing” that have contributed to clear cutting of schools that serve students of color in cities around the nation—most notably the closing of 50 schools in Chicago last year all in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

We call on the civil rights community to support the work of educators around the nation who are working to develop authentic forms of assessment that can be used to help support students to develop critical thinking. Innovative programs like the New York Performance Standards Consortium have a waiver from state standardized tests and instead use performance based assessments that have produced dramatically better outcomes for all students, even though they have more special needs students than the general population—and have demonstrated higher graduation rates, better college attendance rates, and smaller racial divides in achievement than the rest of New York’s public schools.

Finally, we ask that you consider the rousing call to action against the new Common Core tests that was recently issued by the Seattle/King County NAACP chapter in the following statement:

It is the position of the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP to come out against the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, commonly referred to as SBAC. Seattle and Washington State public schools are not supplied with proper resources and a lack of equity within our schools continue to exist.

The State of Washington cannot hold teachers responsible for the outcome of students test results; when these very students are attending schools in a State that ranks 47th out of 50 States in the Nation when it comes to funding education. Furthermore, Washington State cannot expect the majority of students to perform well on increased targeted performance assessments while the State continues to underfund education in direct violation of a Washington State Supreme Court Order. We also know that our students of color are disproportionately underfunded and will disproportionately be labeled failing by the new SBAC test.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.49.40 AMFor this reason, we view the opt out movement as a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice.  Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history.

It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians being accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.

We urge families to opt out of the SBAC test and to contact their local and state officials to advise them to abide by the State Supreme Court McCleary decision to fully fund education.

–Rita Green, MBA; Seattle King County NAACP Education Chair

We join the Seattle NAACP in calling for true accountability for educational opportunities. For too long, our nation has labored under the illusion that “shining a light” on inequities is an adequate remedy. Inequitable opportunities are manifestly evident to anyone who cares to look. The use of tests for this purpose has become part of the problem, rather than a solution. We reiterate our support for parents and students who make the difficult choice to opt out of high stakes tests, and call on our nation’s leaders to shift policies away from these tests.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 9.09.58 AMWilliam Wallace adapted:

I AM William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of [testing] tyranny. You have come to [opt-out] as free men [sic], and free men [sic] you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight? Aye, [opt out] and you may [be punished]. [Take the test] and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may [make us take the test], but they’ll never take our freedom!!!

As a Silver Life member of NAACP, it appears that there will need to be a national conversation amongst civil right organizations on whether Liz King or Jesse Hagopian is William Wallace. I am going with Jesse.

Also, check out the latest in testing relative to privacy, security, and the harmful impacts on youth curated by Professor Roxana Marachi here.

p.s. I am not a Mel Gibson fan either.

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Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

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