THE BLOG

It's Just the Start of the Winter/Spring Testing Season, and Already...

03/13/2015 08:27 am ET | Updated May 13, 2015

Since the beginning of bubble-in mania, also known as corporate reform, learning has typically stagnated during the winter test-prep season and halted for the school year with the April testing season. With Common Core, however, children have already taken their seats in front of computer screens and started their seemingly endless high-stakes assessments.

The rushed start to the test, sort, and punish season(s) raises the question of how early the test-prep season can begin. If the accountability-driven school-reform movement has taught us anything, we must now acknowledge the extremes that under-the-gun schools will go to in order to make their metrics look better, so who knows how much time for learning is being lost? And this year the technical-fix season and the anti-opt-out student-intimidation season are also in full bloom.

Systems are predictably frightened that their computers won't be up to the demands of Common Core testing, but it would have been hard to anticipate the birth of the student-sit-and-stare season. The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports that a New Mexico father said that "he was flabbergasted when [his daughter] came home from school recently saying that she and her classmates had spent an hour sitting in front of computers to make sure that the technology was ready for the new online exams." The dad complained, "They're using up classroom time to test the test."

New Mexico is just one state where the parents' and students' opt-out is undermining the March Madness. Some embattled districts have retaliated and extended the sit-and-stare season into the testing season, punishing students who opt out of tests with hours of doing nothing as they vegetate in front of the test banks. This story has gone viral in the conservative press as well as in the mainstream press, and on social media.

True believers in bubble-in accountability are fuming as the opt-outs spread to tens of thousands of students, especially in places like New Jersey, New York, and other states where the anti-"reform" backlash is at its peak. These non-educators flip-flop between their new, more humane-sounding soundbites (coined by their high-dollar public-relations teams) and seeking vengeance against the educators who they blame for defeating their beautiful hypotheses about "disruptive innovation" blowing up the "status quo." But if they believe that today's anti-testing movement is peaking, reformers will get a real eye opener when the pound-of-flesh season opens.

For the next few months, the focus will be on the foul-ups that accompany the peak spring testing season. We'll read about children breaking down in tears, begging their parents to let them stay home from school. We'll get a peek at the most absurd test questions. Blame will be repeatedly cast regarding the inevitable testing glitches and disputes over holding students accountable for tests given in the middle of those fiascoes. But the reason that these stories will merit headlines is that these flawed tests carry heavy consequences: punitive measures that are just now being phased in. When punishment season takes off, the outcries will multiply.

The pound-of-flesh season will get in full swing as the non-graduation season begins. As more and more students are denied high-school diplomas because they could not pass college-readiness tests, the parents' revolt will take off in families of all socioeconomic classes in all parts of the nation. Then it will be the teaching profession's time to render its pound of flesh, as educators are fired due to the guestimates produced by unreliable value-added models that crunch test data that is invalid for the purposes that it is used for.

Hopefully, the pound-of-flesh season will be abbreviated by a successful litigation season. Currently, judges can (and do) rule that value-added teacher evaluations are unfair but not illegal because they are not irrational. At present, the best candidates for legal victories overturning data-driven evaluations are plaintiffs facing made-up metrics for teachers of non-tested subjects. As more and more students opt out of testing, however, the idea that the use of these test results is rational for sanctioning individuals will become completely implausible.

Finally, test-driven reformers need to play out the chess game and ask what happens when the parents' anger is shifted from the testing season to the election season. Conservatives and liberals will both enjoy the way that Chris Christie and Jeb Bush twist and turn as they respond to being held accountable for their testing obsession. Perhaps the greatest irony is that Rahm Emanuel will be facing his run-off challenger, Chuy Garcia, during the involuntary Chicago testing season.

Soon we probably won't have Rahm to kick us around anymore. As the lessons of the lose-lose seasons are learned, we can get back to offering a full year of teaching and learning for our educators and families.