The average American student and teacher now spend about 30 percent of the school year preparing for and taking standardized tests. This is time that schools could use to achieve their primary purpose of educating students. Instead, they become nothing more than test factories.
American taxpayers send approximately $1.7 billion to the corporate standardized test companies. These funds could go toward educating our youngest learners. They could be spent ensuring students have access to arts, music, and physical education. They could be spent on 21st century technology and updated materials.
No group of students has been more harmed by the failure of high-stakes testing than those in low-income communities. We were all told that the barrage of standardized testing unleashed by No Child Left Behind was necessary to collect critical data on the most underserved students -- including students with disabilities and English language learners -- to help shine a light on educational gaps and drive programs that would boost achievement.
The sad truth is that test-based accountability has not closed the opportunity gaps between affluent and poor schools and students. It has not driven funding and support to the students from historically underfunded communities who need it most. It has not led to an expansion of curricular offerings, but rather a narrowing of them.
NCLB's promise has been proven hollow; its policies have failed.
Despite this failed experiment, the testing obsession continues. We are so addicted to testing that we are now giving students out-of-date standardized tests that are not aligned with what is currently being taught in class. I spent 23 years teaching math to students who were amazingly capable, smart, and perceptive. But even my best student was not omniscient. We simply cannot hold students accountable for material they have not been taught. This is not education. It's malpractice.
Adding insult to injury, students' test scores are used to evaluate teachers who did not teach the subject being tested or who did not even teach the students taking the test! These evaluations are no more reliable than a coin toss. This isn't rigor; it's absurd.
Educators and parents should demand that Education Secretary Arne Duncan listen to educators and communities about the need to develop an accountability system that focuses on each and every child's learning rather than lining the pockets of test companies.
Real accountability in public schools requires that everyone -- lawmakers, teachers, principals, parents, and students -- partner in accepting responsibility for improving student learning and opportunity in America.
As educators, we are stepping up and doing our part. The NEA has doubled-down on its investments and advocacy for high standards for entry into the teaching profession. We are providing more help to educators to improve their practice. We are advocating for comprehensive teacher evaluation systems that help teachers improve. And we are funding efforts across the country to help students succeed.
We are calling on leaders to take some very specific first steps:
1. Pursue an aggressive plan to respond to the growing inequality in opportunities and resources for students across our nation.
2. Overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, end the every year testing mandates, and repeal federal requirements that state standardized test scores be used to evaluate educators.
3. Create a testing ombudsman to serve as our students' and families' watchdog over the testing industry and examine the industry players' market power in education.
4. Lift the mandates requiring school districts to administer outdated tests, unaligned to current curriculum, and stop requiring the use of such tests for any high stakes purposes.
5. Work to pass a grade-span testing bill in Congress, which would replace annual tests with grade-span testing (testing once in elementary, once in middle and once in high school). This would reduce the number of federally mandated statewide math and reading tests from 14 to six over the course of a student's K-12 career.
6. Convene a broad group of stakeholders to begin the discussion about re-designing our current accountability system.
After decades spent teaching math and visiting schools across the country, I know we need an accountability system for excellence AND equity. Our students need school readiness, high standards, a good curriculum, and a quality workforce. They need an equitable distribution of resources so that every student -- no matter where they live -- has access to a great public school. Every student deserves a hurdle-free pathway toward a bright future. Let's build that pathway together.