Advocacy

I am pleased to see the educational union’s efforts in many places across the country, including here in New York, working to stop testing as the major educational movement. Finally, we are seeing them engage in a political debate and mobilize its members around a common cause. While this is a movement, perhaps, come too late, their leadership could really help to set education on the right track. However, the fight against testing should come paired with concrete suggestions for improving the system that recognize the needs of our children, and ultimately, our society.

The national media is just beginning to look at a school such as Garfield high school in Seattle, Washington. There, the teachers are refusing to administer state tests and as a result face suspensions for their decisions. I would like to see our local media pick up this story up and place it into context of local examinations. Near to a million people live in the upstate, Rochester, New York area. How many students does that make? How many tests given?

There is a great deal of testing going on in our schools. Yet, I might think that the perception that we’ve adopted is one where classrooms are test filled and that students toil daily bubbling in scantrons and scratching out formulaic essays in archaic blue books. As an example of how I’ve adopted testing into my professional practice in my composition class, I assess students, and they may not be aware that they are part of an APPR assessment. The assessments are based in the real world content we’re immersed in. They don’t know that they are being evaluated, that their performance is part of my evaluation. They are engaged in the normal flow of assessment I’ve established.

The union should not simply move forward with its efforts to stem the tide of the culture of examination, it should offer the public, and the representatives of our government alternatives that will continue to push educational quality, teacher classroom readiness and student performance forward.

  1. Change the culture of examination with the culture of assessment. By this I mean we stop thinking about measures of student achievement that are simple test driven. We need to as teachers live in assessment. What do kids know before we begin to teach them, what are they learning as we teach them day to day, and what do they learn, have learned as we move through key bench marks. Assessment favors the learning and the progress of the students. An anti-test platform is incomplete without offering up a way that we’ll move forward, and this is paired with educating the public about what happens in the classrooms of the best teachers. Unions could smartly build a campaign to have the public understand how this change in philosophy could help our students.
  2. We cannot get rid of examinations, but we could build better ones. The union should name appropriate assessment tools that could track student progress. As one example, these could be portfolio assessments that reflect a body of the student’s learning in a particular subject.
  3. Unions should call for a moratorium, of a two-year time period, of value added assessment models. There should be a national panel set that completes the research and arrives at an evaluation model that is founded in sound research.
  4. Wait, Keith, a national effort, schools are a states-rights issue. Yes, but unions should advocate for a national system to evaluate teachers and students. Nationally, anyone involved in the educational world should be evaluated by the same standards. As a citizenry, we need to know that children in New York, Alabama, Wyoming and Oregon all achieve the same standards. Teachers in each state must be accountable to these children.

While I’m behind what the union is suggesting, I would be more comfortable with them not simply stopping at what is wrong but at what might we do about it. For too long we’ve let politicians, boards of industry, business leaders, and local Boards of Education control the dialogue about solutions for schools and teacher performance, when the real experts are teachers. If the AFT is really the union of professionals of teachers, then they can be far more proactive about the politics that we take on.

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