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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 05/12/2010

Teachers refuse to give standardized tests to kids

By Valerie Strauss

Maybe there is a lesson in this for American teachers.

Saying that they are sick and tired of forcing kids to take standardized tests, thousands of teachers in England are refusing to administer high-stakes standardized tests in reading writing, spelling and math this week.

British newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, are reporting that as many as half of the estimated 600,000 primary school students due to sit for tests will not take them because their teachers have decided to take a stand against them.

Teachers are giving normal class lessons but won’t administer the tests in a strike called by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers after a ballot of members earlier this year. Head teachers in Britain are the same as American school principals.

The organizations say that there is too much pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” to get high results, and that head teachers can lose their jobs if they don’t boost results. They also say that head teachers can lose their jobs if test scores are not high enough.

There’s more. The Telegraph reported that children’s author Alan Gibbons lamented the fact that students are no longer reading whole books as much as they used to but are instead being given excerpts to “spot the metaphor or the simile.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

These same complaints, of course, have been heard for years in American schools as a result of the No Child Left Behind law, which put standardized testing in the forefront of school reform.

There have been isolated cases of teachers refusing to give tests to some children but no mass action.

But the teachers in England have some support from a part of the government. A House of Commons school committee recently said in a report that the system of high-stakes tests “reduced teachers’ scope” to be creative. The legislators called for more informal assessment by teachers in the classroom, combined with a system of sampling to keep a check on national standards.

How reasonable.

How unfortunate this is happening across the Atlantic and not here.

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 12, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  boycott in Britain, standardized tests, teachers, teachers boycott test, test boycott  
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Next: Goodlad: How to help our schools -- Part 3


"I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." - Thomas Jefferson to James Madison

Posted by: shadwell1 | May 12, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

This would not have been possible without well established and respected (at least by a significant degree) teacher's and administrator's unions. England's people support collective labor efforts much more than the U.S., and this cannot be ignored when considering the possibility of similar movements here.

This act of bold defiance to testing will be portrayed by many as a self serving attempt to avoid accountability at the expense of children's interests. A union, however, can give an articulate and legitimate voice to the concerns of those who are on the front lines of education who clearly see the limitations and misuse of certain forms of standardized tests.

In this example, organizations of government such as the House of Commons school committee have given additional credibility to this strike, which will need public support to be successful. These are risky political calculations, that could never be attempted without unions willing to take-on establishment policies.

I cannot imagine the WTA taking this stand, despite the fact that I believe that our teachers and administrators care about our children, and find the same faults with the implementation of standardized tests as their English counterparts.

In the war over the public perception of the value of testing, school leaders such as Chancellor Rhee currently occupy the rhetorical high-ground. Not only because of weak union organizations, but because of the lack of political leadership from our government. Privately, I have spoken to members of the city council and staff, who understand that the overly simplistic test score metrics that form the basis for evaluation is not sound education policy . They are aware that these Pop-Ed reform policies exist because they are easy to understand, but have not had the political strength and/or courage to begin to challenge and inform the public as true leaders must do.

Mayor Fenty's support is so weak that he is dependent on voter belief that he will retain Chancellor Rhee for reelection. She is far more popular in NW Washington where the approaching election is likely to be decided.

Supporters of real education reform need political leaders that are willing and capable of moving public opinion to support sustainable and effective measures. This is why this upcoming election is so important, and why we must demand serious and detailed education platforms from all those who seek our vote.

Posted by: AGAAIA | May 12, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

And AGAAIA, you're on what, again?

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Posted by: itkonlyyou56 | May 12, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Great posting, Valerie. It reminded me of the Howard Beale scene from Network. Maybe teachers need to open their windows and shout, "I'm mad as h... and not going to test anymore. Or maybe just write their legislators.

Posted by: EdNews1 | May 13, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Now let's get the kids to go on strike and refuse to take the tests. (0r better still, fill in their names and deliberately answer everything wrong or leave all the answers blank. What would happen if an entire school turned in blank tests?)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 13, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

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