In the summer of 2012, ICPE-Monroe County asked our local school board (MCCSC) to adopt a resolution against high stakes testing. As a result of recent legislation, the pressure on kids and their teachers to perform on tests, due to test-driven "accountability" measures like the A-F state grading system of schools, had mounted. We thought that a resolution of the type that was making national news would be helpful to raise awareness for the public about how the punitive use of standardized tests has harmful effects on the most vulnerable children, and point the community in the direction of where they could effect change.
Board member Sue Wanzer brought the resolution to the board for a vote on July 24th. Prior to the start of the meeting, many ICPE members spoke about the importance of this resolution. Chairperson Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer said: " “People here love their public schools. I’m afraid that people are going to get the message that their public schools are failing when in fact our public schools are NOT failing—we as a society are failing poor children and we need to do something about it. But the poor children are the ones that are going to be hurt by this and if you don’t speak out at some point, then ‘your silence is the voice of complicity.’” An expert in standardized tests and ICPE-MCSCI co-founder, Phil Harris said, “…using standardized tests as the measure of accountability goes against everything that they were created to do.”
When it came time to vote on the resolution, Dr. Jeannine Butler was the first to raise her objection. She went into great length about why the teacher evaluation law was fair, even with its use of standardized tests. You can watch her whole testimony on that starting at 42:36 (after the hour mark). After much detail about the teacher evaluation concern (which is not directly mentioned very much in the resolution), she went on to say: "We need to be leaders in how to better prepare our students for how to live in the twenty-first century, rather than telling people to undo the testing requirements. Let’s work with the mandates and help our students. We need to spend our time doing this, rather than sending out resolutions. The time to have spoken out about the standardized testing was BEFORE it was passed by the state legislature. People had the opportunity to speak about the bills. The same for this teacher evaluation legislation that was passed..."
The other board member to raise his objections, was Mr. Kelly Smith. He echoed the concerns about teacher evaluation that Jeannine Butler had raised.
"The things that I’m coming up here with is this, to me, this resolution here seems to be scaring us into saying this is such a bad thing. I just looked at all this great data. We’re beating the system right now! We’re going to continue to do it. I don’t like resolutions, they concentrate on negativity. And when I read this, that’s all I get from it. I’m not saying testing is the best thing in the world. I can agree with Doc [Dr. Jeannine Butler] I think it’s overused and that.
There’s so much more about the model that’s coming out for evaluation that we don’t know about. I know the state has backed off a lot of what we thought was going to be in there. Or what we heard was going to be in there. And ultimately what I did to help come up with a decision on my own was really reach out to the teachers and principals and students and parents that I know, I think I’ve lived in this community long enough to get a good wide sampling. I know this: there’s no teacher or administrator input in this resolution. I have a very hard time supporting something that doesn’t come from our teachers. I heard that they were afraid to say anything. I didn’t talk to a single teacher that said that they were afraid to say that if standardized testing was holding them back from effective teaching, they wouldn’t have any problem telling their administrators. Or us. I’m not getting that. In fact, I’m getting quite the opposite. It’s focusing teachers to collaborate with one another. To focus on the standards that ten or twenty years ago sat in a red binder in the back of your classroom collecting dust.
The momentum that we have going on in this district right now is one that we make no excuses. We don’t make excuses about socioeconomic status, color, race, English language abilities. They’re sending us the best kids that they have every day and we’re doing this by the rules that have come down to us. And we are successful regardless. I think the momentum—this, to me, and maybe it’s not…but to me, it just smells like an excuse. And I don’t want that for our teachers. Or our students, for that matter. We’re doing a great job. I believe this resolution is more negative than it is positive. I can’t support it.”
The resolution ultimately failed. Keith Klein, Lois Sabo-Skelton, and Sue Wanzer voted for it. Then-president Jim Muehling, Martha Street, Kelly Smith and Jeannine Butler voted against it.
Local school boards cannot change the stakes that the state has has tied to standardized tests. Those have been put into law. However, local school boards can decide how much to educate the public as to the consequences of "reform" at both the state and national level. Boards can help ensure that all children are receiving the broad curriculum instead of a narrow focus on teaching to the test for the lowest performing (usually highest concentration of poverty) schools. Boards can put in place processes or means by which to hear back from teachers and students regarding changes in policy. They can be sympathetic ears and ask questions. They might ask, "What can we do to lessen the stress on children?" They might decide that a grading system of schools that is arbitrary and unjust should not be validated with banners nor congratulations. They can even reject these grades and, instead, look to other ways of evaluating and defining schools, teachers' and children's success.
Local school boards matter. Please be informed on the issues and candidates. Know where all candidates, both school board and legislative representatives stand on high-stakes testing. We believe this is the tool for privatization. Please vote.