Sunday, June 28, 2015

Common Core IS Part of the Testing Industrial Complex

Can We Rescue the Common Core Standards from the Testing Machine?

By Peter Greene-
Ethan Heitner

I hear this a lot these days: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are, in and of themselves, fine. If we could just uncouple them from the testing and implementation regimens, all would be well. The standards themselves are an improvement, so let’s build on that opportunity, and not stand in the way just because their ugly testing step-cousin is trying to sneak through the door with them. We just need to get rid of the high-stakes tests.

I can remember thinking like that. I can remember looking at the standards and thinking, “Many of these are actually fine.” In fact, one of my earliest complaints about the CCSS was that they were one more example of folks telling us to do things that we already did. And I don’t think there are teachers alive who don’t relish the promise of freedom to pursue standards in any way they deem most effective.

“You know,” I thought at one point. “If it were possible to just use these standards as a rough guide to follow as we thought best, and we got the government to stop testing, I could live with this.”
That was the same moment when I realized that, no, the CCSS were not pure of heart, and I would never learn to love them.

Because what would decoupling look like? What incantation would exorcise the testing demons? Could teachers go to the government and say: “Thank you for these guidelines. Trust us—we will use our best professional judgment and produce the best-educated generation of students ever. Just step back and watch us work.” No, that would never work, and it would never work because the CCSS are not for us. They never were.

Teachers who like the standards look at them as a guide, as that helpful assurance that we are on the right page. We think of standards as a tool to help us find our way. To us standards say: “Here’s a map. We trust you to find your way.”

Not the Common Core. The primary purpose of the CCSS is to call teachers out. It says: “Here’s what you are supposed to be doing, or else. And we’ll be checking up on you every step of the way.” It is not a tool to be used by teachers; it’s a tool to be used on them.

The CCSS say: “Here’s what you must prove you’re accomplishing.” If you tell your students that you expect them to study and learn the chapter about Torquemada and 15th-century Spain, they know there’s a test coming. Everyone expects the Spanish Inquisition. The CCSS are not about helping us teach; they are about holding us accountable, so they are meaningless without testing (and some parts are meaningless with it).

Since they were designed to hold teachers accountable, they were designed to be tested. Let’s look at the Reading Literature Strand for 11–12 grade: RL.11–12.1, 2, and 3 deal with key ideas and details, and all three standards have one thing in common—they focus always and only on the text. For example, RL.11–12.3 tells us to analyze the impact of the author’s choices, but not the intent or context of them. So a CCSS-style study of The Sun Also Rises would not include the impact of the Great War on Hemingway’s generation, Hemingway’s own background, the rise of postmodernism, or the emerging literary techniques of the period. Nor would we look at how prevalent themes of the generation find expression in the novel.

We would study The Awakening without applying an understanding of women’s roles in the fin de siècle American South. We would study the impact of sarcasm on “A Modest Proposal” without studying what prompted Swift to write it. Animal Farm would be a curious fairy tale about talking animals. I cannot even imagine how to unlock the riches of “Dream Deferred” or “I, Too, Sing America” without noting that Langston Hughes was Black, or considering what it meant then to be African American.
Why would we strip all this literature of its richness, depth, and complexity, the very human qualities that make it worth reading in the first place? Because measuring students’ grasp of such ideas would be hard. Because the test could not be standardized, because we could not control for the depth and breadth of background information that individual students brought to the table. Because the only serious answers to the only important questions would have to be in the form of essays instead of bubbles. And real essays (not the standardized faux essays) are not cost effective to score.

A standardized test cannot measure how a student understands Hemingway’s novel as an expression of a generation’s confusion and alienation after World War I. But a standardized test can ask a student to read a paragraph from the novel and pick the most important sentence.

These are not standards designed to foster a richer and deeper understanding of literature. They are designed to produce easily testable results.

You may reply: “You can teach all that other nifty stuff if you want. Go ahead and enrich your lessons above and beyond the CCSS.”

Well, if I am enriching above and beyond the CCSS, what do I need the CCSS for? If the CCSS is not laying out a path for a full, quality education, what path is it marking?

It’s laying out the path to the test. The CCSS are just the largest scale test-prep guide ever created. The CCSS tell us what we need to cover for the test, and the test tells us how well we covered it. If there were no test, the CCSS would not matter.

The CCSS are also, of course, about making money. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) also wanted to bust into the big piggy bank that is public school funding, but NCLB was a big, blunt hammer; CCSS is a more sophisticated machine with many interlocking parts.

In fact, the biggest reason that CCSS cannot be rescued is directly related to the difficulties those of us who write about education have had in explaining the problems with CCSS. And it is probably the biggest lesson that the powers that be learned from NCLB.

The mistake those powers that be made with NCLB is that they gave the whole thing a name. The testing, the state standards, the punishing evaluations, the funding pressures—everything was gathered under the No Child Left Behind banner. Oh, how we loathed it. We called it funny, mocking names. Even when we couldn’t see the full picture, we knew its name. We knew its name.

This thing that’s happening now? The contempt for teachers, the drive to privatize, the evaluation-based punishment, the dismantling of our profession, the destruction of public education, the redirection of billions of tax dollars, the secrecy, the ill-conceived standards—we can see all its pieces, but the great, chewing mechanism does not have a name. The lack of a shorthand title for the galumphing monstrosity allows its creators, our so-called leaders, to pretend that all these are separate elements, when, in fact, they are all one well-coordinated machine.

If these were all separate and discrete pieces, they could not be parts of a giant machine chewing apart the entire U.S. institution of schooling. And that leads to the belief that some of these separate pieces can be rescued—that we can accept some and leave the rest behind.

But the CCSS are part of a coordinated, interlocking machine, and its creators will never let you take only a piece of it home. The testing regimen is not its own separate thing that can be just thrown out, any more than it was its own thing when it was the engine of NCLB. If you want only one cog, you can’t extract it from the machine.  


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

End Mayoral Control Coalition Supports NYC Education Reconstruction Commission Bill

The End Mayoral Control Coalition supports Barron’s education bill
The End Mayoral Control Coalition fully and enthusiastically endorses Assembly Bill A.7924, introduced by Assemblyman Charles Barron, to establish a ...
The End Mayoral Control Coalition fully and enthusiastically endorses Assembly Bill A.7924 (see below), introduced by Assemblyman Charles Barron, to establish a commission to thoroughly study the ineffectiveness of the New York City mayoral control of education state law. It authorized an entirely undemocratic system of school governance in 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg was given dictatorial control of education in New York City. The current mayor has said he wants permanent undemocratic control.

This bill is an essential first step toward transparently investigating why a 13-year policy of mayoral control has failed to improve the quality of New York City public school education for all students. The commission will show that mayoral control has produced gross racial and class inequities among our public schools in shockingly gross proportions. Also, the commission will recommend the abolition of the current undemocratic mayoral control law and authorize an open exploration for a law that mandates a democratic parent-student-teacher system of school governance.

From our experience, we charge that exclusive mayoral control through a personally handpicked chancellor must be fully exposed for the incompetency it has continually demonstrated. It has mis-educated millions of our students, especially children of color, ELL, immigrant and special-needs students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has mobilized 45 nonprofit “community” and social service organizations to support his efforts to bring permanent mayoral control to our 1.2 million school-age children. These organizations are desperate for funding and naively hope their endorsement of the mayor’s plan will bring in the needed funds to keep them afloat. They have misread de Blasio as a liberal progressive because of slick PR work. But the real de Blasio is continuing the Bloomberg-Giuliani policies of giving the Wall Streeters and luxury condo developers what they want: a direct political say in defining public education while at the same time syphoning off tens of billions of public school monies in the name of “charter” schools and no-bid contracts.

We understand that mayoral control is (1) undermining the quality of the future of our children by eliminating the child-centered institutions of learning and promoting the racist-fueled and profit-centered privatized policies and structures of “education” institutions; (2) stripping decision-making power from parents, educators, students and community and giving power over to the mayor’s office, his corporate allies, state legislators and the governor; and (3) infringing on the human rights of the students and parents of New York City public schools.

David Dobosz, a retired teacher from Brownsville’s District 23 and a member of the Independent Commission for Public Education, notes, “Public schools in heavily ‘charter schooled’ neighborhoods have become seriously under-resourced buildings that concentrate ever-increasing numbers of high-needs children in over-crowded classes that simply cannot be serviced effectively by a downsized staff and developmentally inappropriate standardized tests. The mayor owns problems like these because only he, not the parents nor the students, teachers or the community, has any real decision-making power to substantially change the numerous adverse in-school circumstances that negatively affect children. These adverse circumstances have only worsened over the years, and we refuse to allow this any longer.”

Brooklyn parent activist and co-chair of the Coalition for Public Education Muba Yarofulani asserts, “The sun setting of mayoral control is this month. As a parent of a child attending a New York City public school, I will fight to see a commission put into place to investigate this 13-year-old failed educational system, which has squandered tens of billions of dollars, and instead, transform it into a democratic people’s Board of Education.”

Instead of continuing mayoral control for any length of time, we must advocate for and fight for the creation of an education system based on human rights that includes democratic participation, equity, nondiscrimination and the full rich human development of us all—a democratic people’s Board of Education. The commission bill Barron has submitted can definitely help us start this democratic process in which parents, teachers, students and community are engaged in creating educational excellence for our children and adults desiring to further their education.

The End Mayoral Control Coalition is supported by many grassroots organizations, chiefly the Coalition for Public Education, the Independent Commission on Public Education, Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, S.E.E.D.S.( and others. Each of these organizations advocates for a democratic governance of public education at the community level to provide equal educational opportunity for all students.

For more information, visit and

A07924 Summary:

BILL NO    A07924 

SAME AS    No same as 

SPONSOR    Barron

COSPNSR    Walker


Establishes a task force on school governance to research and propose a new
structure for school governance in a city with a population of one million or
more; requires the task force's proposal go into effect on September 1, 2016
ending mayoral control.

A07924 Text:

                           S T A T E   O F   N E W   Y O R K


                              2015-2016 Regular Sessions

                                 I N  A S S E M B L Y

                                     June 1, 2015

       Introduced by M. of A. BARRON -- read once and referred to the Committee
         on Education

       AN  ACT  to  establish a task force on school governance to research and
         propose a new system for school governance in a city with a population
         of one million or more;  and  providing  for  the  repeal  of  certain
         provisions upon expiration thereof


    1    Section 1. 1. A task force on school governance is hereby  established
    2  to  research  and  propose  a new system for school governance in a city
    3  with a population of one million or more.   Such  task  force  shall  be
    4  composed of sixteen members of whom one member shall be appointed by the
    5  governor,  one  member  shall be appointed by the temporary president of
    6  the senate, one member shall be appointed by the minority leader of  the
    7  senate,  one  member  shall be appointed by the speaker of the assembly,
    8  one member shall be appointed by the minority leader  of  the  assembly,
    9  one  member  shall  be  appointed by New York State United Teachers, one
   10  member shall be appointed by the  United  Federation  of  Teachers,  one
   11  member  shall  be  appointed by District Council 37, one member shall be
   12  appointed by the council of school supervisors and administrators,  five
   13  members  shall  be appointed by the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council
   14  and two members shall be appointed by the state department of education.
   15  Of the members appointed by the department of education, both  shall  be
   16  student  representatives  from Student Leadership Teams; one such member
   17  shall be appointed from a high-performing  school  and  the  other  such
   18  member shall be appointed from a low-performing school. The chair of the
   19  task  force  shall  be  elected  by  a  majority  vote of the task force
   20  members.  The members of the task force  shall  each  have  demonstrated
   21  experience  or  expertise  in school governance and/or have an impact on
   22  their schools and communities.

        EXPLANATION--Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets
                             [ ] is old law to be omitted.
       A. 7924                             2

    1    2. The task force  shall  research,  examine  and  evaluate  potential
    2  school  governance  models  and  shall  propose  a new system for school
    3  governance in a city with a population of one  million  or  more.    The
    4  commission is charged with the following tasks: assess the strengths and
    5  weaknesses  of  the  current educational system; create a strategic plan
    6  and develop a mission, goals and policies to redesign the system and its
    7  governance structure to guarantee every child's human  right  to  educa-
    8  tion;  include  the  public  in  a democratic process to reach consensus
    9  about a redesigned system that the legislature enacts into law.
   10    S 2. The members of the task force shall receive no  compensation  for
   11  their services, but shall be allowed their actual and necessary expenses
   12  incurred  in  the  performance  of  their  duties  pursuant to this act,
   13  provided that the task force shall be authorized to conduct meetings  in
   14  a manner that minimizes travel and costs.
   15    S  3.  The task force shall submit, within twelve months of the effec-
   16  tive date of this act, a final report of its proposal for a  new  system
   17  for school governance in a city with a population of one million or more
   18  to  the  governor, the temporary president of the senate, the speaker of
   19  the assembly and the chairs of the education committees in the  assembly
   20  and  senate.  The report shall include such legislative proposals as the
   21  task force deems necessary to implement its new system for school gover-
   22  nance. Such proposal for a new system for school governance  in  a  city
   23  with a population of one million or more shall go into effect on Septem-
   24  ber  1,  2016. Mayoral control pursuant to article 52-A of the education
   25  law shall expire on September 1, 2016.
   26    S 4. This act shall take effect immediately;  provided  that  sections
   27  one and two of this act shall expire and be deemed repealed September 1,
   28  2016.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why Corporations Want Public Schools By Any Means Necessary

Infographic: Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools

Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

NY State Assemblywoman Nolan-Education Chair- Won't Answer Teacher Eval Questions

 Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco Exposes The Standardized Test as a Guillotine and the Bankruptcy of Ed Chair Kathy Nolan

Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco debated a bill to amend the education budget bill and Chairwoman Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan refused to answer questions regarding limiting the use of Common Core standardized tests that are forcing teachers to teach to the test and robbing students' joy of learning.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

#LetemPlay Fights Against NYC Public School Sports Racism


The New York City Department of Education's high school system is "Separate and Unequal". This film will tell the story of the NYCLetEmPlay students, who since 2011 have led a nonviolent struggle for equal access to high school athletics. It will expose the DOE leaders and elected officials who have ignored the students civil rights and continue to defend a system that leaves students of color with the least access to sports, arts, music, AP courses, and quality facilities.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Big Lies and Big Plans Behind the Atlanta School Cheating Scandal

Demonizing Teachers, Privatizing Schools: The Big Lies and Big Plans Behind the Atlanta School Cheating Scandal

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Should we be wondering if the prosecution of cheating Atlanta teachers for racketeering was racist? Or should black parents and educators be leading a movement against high-stakes standardized testing as the gateway tool to privatizing public education in black and brown communities across the country?

When drama queen Fulton County judge Jerry Baxter demanded public post-conviction apologies from Atlanta teachers already convicted of racketeering lest he hand them double digit sentences, it struck raw nerves in parts of black America. Black pastors and community leaders called press conferences. They held rallies and issued stern statements. They denounced the judge for making “common criminals” out of black teachers. Inevitably, they wondered whether white teachers would have been prosecuted or subjected to post-conviction humiliation of this kind.

They're asking the wrong question. What they ought to ask is why the teacher perp walk is being served up in the first place. They need to ask who profits from the continuing crisis in public education in black and brown communities? The answers are not hard to find.

The whole thing, from the indictment of Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Beverly Hall, who died before the trial was complete, to the posturing of public officials and corporate media about “cheating the children” is the latest act of a long, long fake crisis. Judge Baxter's histrionics too, in which he called the cheating scandal “the sickest thing that's ever happened to Atlanta,” were a great contribution to the story our billionaire-owned media wants to paint about public education.
The one-percenters need us to believe public education in our communities is some new kind of sewer infested with incompetent teachers who are cheating children and the public every week they draw paychecks. The long, long crisis of public education has been designed, engineered and provoked by powerful bipartisan forces to justify their long game, which is the privatization of public education.

That's the Big Plan.

Since at least 2001, when George W. Bush's conservative Republicans teamed up with Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy's liberal Democrats to pass and implement the No Child Left Behind Act, it's been the policy of both capitalist parties implemented by the federal Department of Education to create, to provoke and to exacerbate a phony educational crisis. This program of crisis-creation has been backed by Wall Street, by banksters and hedge fund types, by giant corporations like Wal-Mart and powerful right wing interest groups like the US Chamber of Commerce as well as the so-called philanthropic tentacles of corporate America like the Gates, Broad, Heritage and Walton Family Foundations. The solution to the fake crisis has been the whole industry of testing experts, turnaround consultants, diploma mills for fake principals, lucrative charter school companies and their contractors, and the private but government sanctioned agencies that rate school districts. Even the agencies that rate school districts are staffed by the same “run the school like a business” experts approved by the US Chamber of Commerce who were employed to write President Obama's Race to the Top program, which punishes school districts that don't privatize or implement “run the school like a business 'reforms'” fast enough.

High stakes standardized testing, like the tests educators cheated on in Atlanta, is an essential tool in provoking the crisis, but it's a big lie. These kinds of tests don't reflect student progress or teacher competency. They track to family income, and family income in the US correlates largely to race. So as Glen Ford put it back in 2012
“The standardized tests were bombs, designed to explode the public schools and the teaching profession. Everyone involved knew that inner city kids would fail the tests in huge numbers, setting the infernal machine in motion for the closing of schools and the wholesale firing of teachers...”

The bombs were planted not just in Atlanta, but in thousands of school districts across the nation, with predictable results. A 2012 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the same suspicious patterns of radical test score improvement seen in Atlanta could be found in more than 200 school districts across the country, from Philly to Portland, and from Alaska to Alabama. Clearly, cheating teachers and principals in Georgia were and likely still are doing the same things the same way as their colleagues across the country.

It's also very true that Atlanta's teachers were singled out. Other teachers in other states were merely stripped of their jobs and professional licenses. Teach For America alums Michelle Rhee and Kayla Henderson both headed Washington DC's public schools when massive cheating scandals occurred, but unlike Atlanta's Beverly Hall, neither they nor their subordinates are in any danger of prosecution. Atlanta on the other hand, is closely associated with the notion of African Americans running big cities, so making the example of black educators in Atlanta makes perfect political sense for those orchestrating the crisis. Still we shouldn't feel too sorry for the Atlanta teachers. Beverly Hall turned big chunks of Atlanta's public schools over to privatizers, and even helped divert $140 million a year for more than 20 years away from Atlanta's public school children to line the pockets of developers and gentrifiers in a lucrative boondoggle Atlantans know as “the Beltline.”

If the black political class and black educators really stood for the interests of their students and communities they would be educating black parents and students across the country about their right to opt out of tests that serve no legitimate educational purpose, as teachers in Chicago and Seattle are already doing.
But that's problematic too. Opposing standardized testing would place the black political class in conflict not with the slippery nebulous demons of institutional racism, but biting some of the very real and easy-to-find hands in corporate America that feed it. Taking issue with standardized testing, Common Core and the drive to privatize education would put black educators in opposition to corporate America, to the Gates, Walton Family (Wal-Mart), Eli Broad and other foundations, and to Republicans and Democrats including President Obama and Arne Duncan, his Secretary of Education. This is not an easy thing to do when national black “civil rights” organizations from the National Action Network and the National Urban League have eagerly accepted corporate-engineered school reform with corporate dollars, and President Obama is deeply beholden to the charter school sugar daddies.

So it looks like we can count on our black political class to stick to the script on the Atlanta teachers cheating scandal. They'll talk about whether the prosecution was racist, and they'll wring self-righteous hands over teachers “cheating the children.” But they won't question those who set up the rigged game of high stakes testing or why.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Seattle Black Educator, Jesse Hagopian, Counters "Civil Rights" Groups' Opposition to Opt Out

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education: A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”

Twelve national civil rights organizations released a statement today in opposition to parents and students who opt out of high-stakes standardized testing–what has now become a truly mass direct action campaign against the multi-billion dollar testing industry.  I believe that their statement titled, “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts,” misses the key role that standardized testing has played throughout American history in reproducing institutional racism and inequality.  I wrote the below statement, with the aid of the board of the Network for Public Education, to outline the racist history of standardized testing and to highlight leadership from people of color in the movement against high-stakes testing. I sincerely hope for a response from the civil rights organizations who authored the statement and I hope that this dialogue leads to deeper discussion about how to make Black Lives Matter in our school system and how to remake American public education on foundation of social justice.

Resistance to High Stakes Tests Serves the Cause of Equity in Education A Reply to “We Oppose Anti-Testing Efforts”
Authored by Jesse Hagopian and the NPE Board of Directors NPE

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:

You 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 particular 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 attendance 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.

To 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.

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 know 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.
Image result for school to prison pipeline rally
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.
Again, 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.
Left, front: Seattle/King County NAACP President Gerald Hankerson. Right, front: Seattle/King County NAACP education Chair, Rita Green.

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 New York City Consortium Schools have a wavier 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.
For 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 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.
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.