If I Had the Clout of High-Stakes Testing...

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET
  • Dan Brown Director, Future Educators Association, Author of "The Great Expectations School"

If I had the power and clout of high-stakes testing, I would be king of the United States public education kingdom.

I'd be endlessly praised and exclusively relied upon in every hall of power. My scores would get all the headlines, and I'd shrug off detractors who might gripe about any alleged gap between the rhetoric and reality of my promises. I'd ignore the dry-as-burnt-toast volumes published by puny university presses that criticize my talking points. Because, oh, what talking points they are!

1. I stand for accountability in the strongest way possible.

2. Strengthening me is the same as strengthening standards. Opposing me means you want weaker standards. (And if so, off with your head!)

3. I can isolate and tabulate "value-added."

4. I help students, parents, and teachers because I am an accurate assessment of achievement.

If I were high-stakes testing, I'd throw a red-carpet gala for New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein. My old numbers-driven compatriots from the business sphere, they have worked tirelessly to make me priority number one in New York City's classrooms.

And they know how to get things done! They brought in another pal of mine, Chris Cerf, former president of school privatization corporation Edison Schools, Inc., to be Deputy Chancellor. He has assembled a newly revealed program that will rate teachers purely on kids' high-stakes test scores. Sure, the peon teachers were livid when the story broke this week, but why should they stand in the way? Mayor Mike knows how to get what he wants.

The teachers' union is upset about the plan, but we kind of saw that coming. They have tenacity on their side, but we dictate the policy and they react to it. That's a pretty favorable deal for us.

UFT president Randi Weingarten said of the program,

"School and teacher accountability must be based on multiple indicators that make sense to teachers, resonate with parents and are fair, accurate and transparent. Secretly collecting test score data and basing teacher evaluations on them run counter to any of these principles... It risks turning our school system into Test Prep, Inc., with educators doing nothing else but preparing students for standardized math and English tests and denying kids the balanced and well-rounded education they need."

Whatever. It's good to be the king when you have pals like Bloomberg and Klein. With those guys at the helm, legitimized by the No Child Left Behind legislation, I've been promoted like a cure for cancer, regardless of the nuanced realities that Ms. Weingarten is so upset about.

So what if some people (teachers, parents, students, researchers) say that high-stakes testing hurtfully distorts curriculum and school priorities? So what if some kids are being trained to equate a successful year in school with barely passing a standardized exam, and nothing more? So what if the high-stakes attached to the tests contaminate their validity?

It doesn't matter to me if someone says that months of class time dedicated to test prep teaches kids essentially how to follow a specific testing procedure, not how to become articulate, inquisitive, well-rounded citizens. And I certainly don't care if anyone claims that there are fairer, more comprehensive ways to assess students and have accountability.

My team has the heavy hitters (the president, the mayor, much of the media) and we don't have to deign to their lowly level, down on the ground where the policy plays out. We've got impressive metrics, boosted standards, and a fierce stance on accountability. We always put kids first. Achievement is up several points to prove it. And lastly, we've got the biggest microphone.

Dan Brown is the author of "The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle."