THE BLOG
11/25/2014 04:25 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Why Tulsa Teachers Risk Their Jobs to Opt Out of the Testing Madness

Some non-educators are taken aback by the series of reports on the way that testing eats up incredible amounts of class time -- up to 80 days a year. Skeptics might believe that teachers across the nation are suffering from a mass hallucination, or maybe they don't understand the complex logistics of diverse schools.

When testing chewed up 50 percent of the class time of my school's sophomores, 40 percent dropped out in 90 days. My worst memory of the tragedy was the way that a brilliant American Indian kept beating up on himself for being emotionally incapable of turning his brain off and enduring the humiliation of the nonstop test prep. For years after, he blamed himself for becoming a 15-year-old dropout.

Two first grade teachers, Miss Karen Hendren and Mrs. Nikki Jones were featured in a front page Tulsa World and the United Opt Out web site. They wrote an open letter to parents documenting the damage being done by testing and the new value-added evaluation system being implemented by the Tulsa schools under the guidance of the Gates Foundation.

Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones explain how this obsession with testing "has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties." Our poorest kids are falling further behind because they are being robbed of reading instruction. By Hendren's and Jones' estimate, their students lose 288 hours or 72 days of school to testing!

The heart of the story is their description of students who must endure these assessments. They wrote of one conscientious first grader, "We watched his eyes well up with tears. We watched the student nervously pull at his hair. Eventually, the student scratched red marks down his face in distress over the test."

A special education student "looked around the room and noticed everyone clicking away even though he was still on question 6. The child raised his hand and said "Why am I counting apples and he has math with lots of numbers?" He then stood up and threw his chair."

Adaptive tests are supposed to be more "personalized" but Hendren and Jones describe another result of those sort of tests that ask more or less difficult questions, based on the students' answers, until he reaches the zone of proximal development (ZPD). This is the result for a student who is a "pleaser," tried to do his best :

This particular student quickly noticed that each question he answered correctly generated a more challenging question. Once out of his ZPD, the student laid his/her head down in tears and clicked through the test randomly selecting an answer, then clicking the arrow to proceed. We are talking about a student that is funny and happy. He can tell us jokes all day long. He takes care of the classroom and is in tune with peoples feelings. This student knows when he is respected and when he is not.

I can understand why true believers in test-driven reform, especially those without experience with real live students in actual schools, refuse to acknowledge the damage being done to public education by testing. It becomes easier for them if teachers can be dismissed as self-interested adults. But, bigger than the harm done to the teaching profession is the way that testing has undermined our education values. Bigger still is the pain that is being inflicted on children who are collateral damage in their attack on neighborhood schools.