“Toxic Testing is Taking Its Toll” - National Council of Teachers of English
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“Toxic Testing is Taking Its Toll”

The following is excerpted from Dawn Kirby’s piece on the blog Writers Who Care, reprinted here by permission:


Some school administrators are beginning to see that testing is harming education and are saying so, publicly.  Some teachers are resigning to protest their pay and an over-emphasis on testing, and are saying so, publicly. What thoughts might be relevant to desperate, demoralized, and concerned teachers everywhere?

Considerations for Frustrated Teachers, Parents, and Administrators

Several ideas come to mind.

First, educators and those who support true education must speak with their vote. Elect school board members, superintendents, and others who know education as a profession, not just as something they endured as a child. Those with experience, integrity, and grit need to be in charge of educational policy.

Second, we all need to read.  What are the issues? What facts do we need to know to enter the conversation with more than righteous indignation, regardless of our stance? What is the language of reform, policy, accountability, and assessment? Start with Diane Ravitch’s recent articles, books, and blogs. She has shifted her opinions lately about educational policy, and for good reason. Let’s read to learn.

Third, educators need support from colleagues, parents, and governmental and educational officials. The vast majority of teachers work hard to adhere to sound instructional literacy practice; they benefit from parents and administrators who support their efforts. So much occurs that is beyond a classroom teacher’s control. For example, educational officials decide to cut class time and give teachers more students to educate daily. What’s a teacher to do?

Fourth, educators need the support to speak out on issues vital to quality education. Although tenure is a controversial topic right now, the security of not being fired without strong justification allows beginning and experienced teachers to voice new ideas, enter the professional dialogue, try innovative instructional strategies, and find their terra firma as professionals. Education is a dynamic, not static, complex process that deserves careful consideration and exploration. If you think your job is on the line for disagreeing with your boss, how free will you feel to express new ideas? Most of us can answer that question easily.

This atmosphere of toxic testing, lack of public support for teachers, and uninformed policy and practice mandates is having an effect not just on individual teachers and their students trying to learn to read and write, but also on our national education rankings. We are not the global educational leaders we once were.

The World’s Top 20 Countries for Education

The U.S. educational system once led global ratings. No more. What happened?

Sometimes the emperor simply has no clothes. Having standards and accountability makes sense; but what started out as a potentially good idea veered off track badly, as despairing teachers illustrate. How will we know where we went wrong if no one raises questions and proposes alternate ideas? In a democracy, free speech and the exchange of ideas are crucial. Part of what literacy education does is teach students how to reason, think critically, and engage in dialogue. In our rush to assess, to hold teachers accountable, we’re losing sight of these literacy goals.

Which countries’ educational systems are  top-rated now and why? We benefit from looking at other models through which students’ achievements and learning soar.

Teachers of the Future, The Future of Teaching

We all need our best teachers to stick with the job. If we have an educational system in which the submissive and downtrodden are the only ones who survive working in it, we all lose. If our best and brightest aren’t becoming teachers and staying in the profession, who will the teachers of the future be?

Let these questions simmer in your brain a while.

In 1971, long before our newest teachers were born, we learned from Neal Postman and Charles Weingartner that teaching is a subversive activity. It is true now more than ever. We have the responsibility to speak out and to do what is right to educate our students, to give them authentic literacy experiences in the classroom, and to assess their achievements in meaningful ways. If students are to write well, they need the opportunity to write often and receive feedback on their writing. Teachers struggling with restrictive testing, huge classes, and demoralization simply cannot be expected to teach writing as they know they should, as they know students need to be taught. Our entire national educational standing is suffering, in part, because our students and teachers are not receiving support for teaching with authentic literacy experiences.