Sunday, August 9, 2015

Next Step for the Opt Out Movement- Demanding Public Schools Exempt from State Tests

If you want to restore idealism to the teaching profession, win back the confidence of the nation's parents, and expand the recruitment of teachers of color, one sure fire way to do this is start opening "test exempt" public schools in communities where parents and teachers demand them, either by opening new schools or giving test exemptions to existing schools.
There are already high schools like this in New York City- called "Consortium Schools"- which use teacher developed assessments to chart student progress, and they are extremely popular with students and parents. It is time to expand this experiment to middle schools and elementary schools, and spread it around the nation.
It is hard to put in words how much excitement and hope this will create among the nation's disillusioned parents and teachers, who have been leaving public schools in droves. Imagine- a chance to unleash teacher and students creativity; end the humiliation and abuse of students with special needs; give the arts, play and exercise their rightful place in the school experience; and allow flexibility in assessing student talents and performance.
There will be those who say that such an experiment dispenses with "accountability" and makes it impossible to determine whether these schools serving their students well, but that is only because they see test results are the only important data. However there are other forms of "data" that may be even more meaningful in determining whether such schools are succeeding. Here are a few:
How many teachers apply to teach in these schools when they open?
How long do teachers stay at these schools once they begin operations?
How much turnover is there among students in these schools? Are there less student suspensions than in regular public schools and charter schools?
What are the graduation rates of students who begin in these schools? Do a higher percentage of students stay in these schools till graduation- at whatever level- than in regular public schools and charter schools?
And finally, how do the college admission and retention rates, and job placement rates of students in these schools compare to those in regular public schools and charter schools?
An overemphasis on testing, data collection, and national standards has created unprecedented levels of demoralization and resistance among parents teachers and students. Here is an opportunity to use all that energy to revitalize teaching and learning and turn schools into places where everyone wants to be rather than centers of stress and abuse
Do we dare to propose this and fight for it?
I hope the answer is yes.
PS Text exemption means exemption from State Tests. Teachers in these schools can, when appropriate, administer tests to determine student skill levels provided they are not used to intimidate or humiliate any class or category of students.