Sunday, January 03, 2021

 Now that I am retired, I might start posting again. Here's a letter I wrote just now to the NYT in response to their editorial on Betsy DeVos.  

Dear Editor,

I continue to be amazed at our bedrock assumption that test scores are a measure of learning despite the fact that they can never be so.

During the first 16 years after graduating from college, I taught high school history at Groton, and then at three NYC independent schools - was fired three times and then blacklisted, so I moved to San Francisco and got my PhD in education. I then became a community organizer around school reform in San Francisco and co-founded the SF Freedom School.  This led to a job at SF State University teaching political science.  I taught at SFSU for 13 years. During the last four years, I helped to revive the Experimental College (became its first director) and am now just retired at 65.  During my entire educational career, standardized tests have been my nemesis.

While teaching U.S history to rich kids in NYC, I refused to make history boring, a mere recitation of dates, the names of white, rich men, and battles. I wanted them to see history as crucial to their lives as active citizens.  I got in trouble for being good at that.  The constant complaint from administrators and parents was, I "wasn't preparing my students for the test" -- the US History Achievement and US History Advanced Placement tests. So, when I entered my PhD program at UC Davis, I was particularly interested in my Educational Testing and Policy courses.   I learned how standardized tests scores have been misused by policy makers and the media and that business leaders have always driven educational policy.  I have tried (and failed) to persuade teachers and parents that standardized tests CREATE the achievement gap so they can NOT be used as a tool to reduce it. I gave up this fight around 2007, totally defeated.  I had hoped by now that, at least, there might be some question about the role of standardized tests in measuring educational quality if not learning.  Your editorial disabused me of that notion.

Of course, I wonder why?  The only answer I can come up with is that standardized testing is inextricably intertwined with basic American mythology.  Simply, it goes like this:
We often speak of a third rails in the political system.  But standardized tests seem to be the engine that drives the system.  Never to be questioned or seen for what it is.

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