Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Boycotting Tests a Solution to the Ruinous Culture? by Shaun Johnson

In my last post about how testing ruins elementary education, a lively debate with readers ensued. One commenter in particular wondered about solutions for the so-called "ruinous" culture I noted in the title. I thought about it over the last couple of weeks and there was one idea that sort of took over the rest. I couldn't get anywhere else without acknowledging and unpacking it. So, I'm going to run it by readers here and see what reaction it gets. A bit of a disclaimer first: This idea or solution to some of education's testing woes is purely hypothetical. But I feel like I have to start somewhere before walking it back. And maybe this has been proposed already to tremendous failure or resistance. Here we go anyway.

What would happen if tests were boycotted? Seriously. Imagine if a bunch of parents and community members got together and refused to allow their students or children to take the state tests. I can envision waves of parents requesting that their children sit it out in the media center. Perhaps parents who stay at home can offer childcare services to those that work, keeping their children home during testing week. Set up a play date or a field trip to a museum. Would this not seriously compromise the ability of education leaders and reformers, those who believe quite erroneously in the ultimate power of quantitative metrics, to use these measures to make every decision? Yes, it would, and then we can finally have an adult conversation about viable alternatives.

Without those precious test scores, hands would be forced. Natural inclinations -- nay, addictions -- to weights and measures could drive leaders into frenzies. Would they barge into schools and demand immediate assessments? Would they pull children aside in the hallways and drill them with math questions? I can see the suits standing in the school's foyer, reading aloud short passages about plant fertilization, and asking anyone within earshot if they understood the author's purpose. Men in ties, on their knees in front of a class on their way to art, are asking in desperation, "Oh why won't you just choose an answer? Someone tell me, is it A or B?"

Before this gets even weirder, I must admit that the most likely and logical outcomes would be losses of funding and jobs. No melodrama, just pink slips and program cuts until the mess is sorted out. Indeed, the power of a boycotting tests would come from universal participation. Many schools or communities, quite understandably, would be too cautious to participate. Those few that do refuse testing would only be setting themselves up for more pain, as they become scapegoats for such insolence.

Without much research on my part, a testing boycott driven by parents and community members is the only real interesting solution I can think of right now. It is certainly foolhardy and idealistic. But what if the power to test and measure was stripped away? What if the data was simply withheld or held hostage? Nothing is more personal to those without much power -- the students -- than what they know and how they feel. Those in power, however, covet that information the most. Considering what many leaders have done for or to schools so far, perhaps they don't necessarily deserve it. I completely understand that the hands of teachers, principals, and even superintendents are tied. I don't have children of my own, but I do know that as an educator, some kind of resistance like this can only come from parents and other members of the school community. I also know that as an educator, our time to draw these harsh lines is running out.

1 comment:

  1. I've fantasized about this kind of boycott as well.

    I did withhold my daughter from the state testing the last year she was in school. It created a frenzy. And then we started homeschooling. I'm glad to be done with the charade of education currently going on in public schools right now.