Must teachers keep quiet about the tests?

Just read this great post by Anthony Cody: The pineapple story tests us: Have test publishers become unquestionable authorities? I just want to take a moment to say how uncomfortable I am with the fact that in NY, teachers are not allowed to discuss anything on the state tests so that passages and test questions can be recycled for use in future years. When I scored the writing portion of the test last year, I had to sign a document swearing that I would not discuss anything related to the grading of the tests. I’m not sure why that was necessary, whom or what it protected.

On the face of it, the security procedure might seem reasonable enough. But requiring our silence on a single test that purports to measure our students’ learning and our effectiveness as teachers is quite unsettling. “The devil is in the details” as they say, and suddenly, we are not allowed to comment or question the details. Had the NY Daily News not somehow gotten the story about the Pineapple and the hare and the ridiculous questions that followed, they would likely not have been discounted. Someone did speak up—who took that risk?

Having read through the eighth grade test myself, I know that there are several other poorly constructed questions. They just followed somewhat less ridiculous passages. But I cannot discuss them, and that certainly seems unfair.

Larry Ferlazzo has a great post today about what scientific research says happens when people feel like they are treated unfairly or controlled: their motivation plunges. Teacher morale nationwide is the lowest it has been in over 20 years, according to MetLife’s 2011 Survey of the American Teacher as the stakes for standardized tests and the role they play in our professional lives increases dramatically.

These conditions feel like something the theorist Michel Foucault would have written about:

The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.
― Michel FoucaultThe Chomsky – Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

Call me crazy for going there, but it is not neutral to give an outside for-profit company sole control over the assessment of our children’s learning, hold that up as evidence of our teaching quality, and then require teachers to keep silent about the particulars of these measures. This feels like an instrument of control out of a very different era than the one in which I thought I lived.

 

[image credit: unknownhedgehog.deviantart.com]

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