Having an authentic audience that includes my friends, students, and colleagues while blogging about educational reform is more difficult than I expected. Not wanting to bore my readers, nor preach to them, I’ve been waiting to write until I had the “uncommon, insightful essay” that I am always bugging my AP students about. Well, EdWeek wrote an article sharing PARCC’s very vague guidelines about technology required to test students in compliance with Common Core in 2014-2015. Here’s my favorite part, the part that I’d like to discuss in more detail.
One of the requirements focuses on test security. All devices used during the tests—whether laptops, netbooks, or tablets—and operating systems must have the capability to “lock down” and temporarily disable features that present a security risk while exams are being given. Certain features would also need to be controlled during test administration, including unlimited Internet access, certain types of cameras, screen captures, email, and instant-messaging, the requirements say.
I don’t know a lot about computer security systems, but I know enough to understand that the concept of “lock down” is simply not possible in our modern world. Anonymous hacked the Fed this week and MIT last month: I bet their computers were more “locked down” than public schools’. The fact that lock down can’t exist, that privacy – much like Nietzsche’s God – is dead, won’t stop school districts across the nation from pursuing hardware and software that will fulfill this unfulfillable requirement; and this will surely be at a huge cost to taxpayers everywhere at a time when public education is already financially insolvent. PARCC tests will be the nail in the coffin of public education as we know it.
The current guidelines seem to be vague enough to encourage feedback from districts, but will surely be expensive. Again, from EdWeek:
Some of the PARCC requirements are still to come. Minimum bandwidth requirements won’t be determined until next year, according to PARCC. But the group is setting the recommended bandwidth for external connections to the Internet at 100 kilobytes per second, per student, or faster, and the minimum for internal school networks at least at 1000 kilobytes per second, per student.
I have asked my own district what our current bandwidth limitations are, and will update with more information when it becomes available. Clearly, though, in remote districts where the connection is slow or urban districts where there are a lot of students, this is going to be a burden. And building infrastructure isn’t free.
Without having to speculate, though, I can clearly speak to the effects of this purposeless testing. My current district is not going to buy any new technology that doesn’t fit the PARCC guidelines, so as to avoid spending money on tech that cannot also be used to test. The EdWeek article points out that the PARCC guidelines are very similar to the SBAC guidelines: PARCC was the Race to the Top winner, and includes 23 states and Washington, D.C.; SBAC covers the rest of the nation. While I understand that when resources are limited we need tools that can multitask, I would argue that this is true only if you accept the current educational paradigm. We only need new, specific, Windows-driven computers and more bandwidth if we agree that testing our students in the way that Race to the Top and Common Core requires is in the best interest of learning. I don’t.
And not only don’t I think testing, and hoarding resources to afford to be able to test, is in the best interest of learners, neither do a growing number of educators, parent/taxpayers, school leaders, and students. While Anonymous was hacking the Fed, Seattle educators were breaking the system too by refusing to administer another purposeless test to their students. Because their fight is a noble one, parents and students joined them, refusing to test and asserting their rights to be educated, not tested. Way back in September, Chicago teachers, including a personal friend and colleague, went on strike to call attention to the terrible learning conditions;students joined them in advocating for purposeful, quality education, too.
My point is that education change is happening, with or without you. Students are ready and willing to take up the fight, but they need what they always have: modeling from adults, in this case they need adults to model the purposeful, fearless, and deliberate challenging of the broken Prussian paradigm I wrote about in my first post. Students need to know that educational reform cannot happen without them, and we need to show them how to demand change in a productive way. This task is multifaceted, depending on what influence you personally have. It includes modeling for our young learners that we do not accept anything less than excellent pedagogy, purposeful instruction, and hard work from our leaders and from ourselves. It includes helping young people in determining the objectives for one’s own learning, as well as modeling the life of an adult learner who also sets goals, chooses a method of approach, and then monitors his or her own progress towards mastery of said goal. It involves choosing to view college as a product you are purchasing, and conducting focused research into whether or not the investment of college is best suited to helping one attain his or her specific goals. It involves devaluing the status quo and seeking to understand the “wheels within wheels” by which our society, and therefore education, functions. It includes not taking no for an answer, following the rules only as much as you have to, and demonstrating success within a broken system while advocating against it so as to add competency to your argument. It’s hard work, and it must be a community effort if educational reform in any kind of real sense is going to occur.
New York State educational reformers – teachers, parents, students, leaders — have some time to plan our strategic response to the bombardment of Pearson-created tests that will hit our students this spring. There is fertile ground here, as 2012’s 8th grade ELA and math tests were flawed: the ELA included the notorious pineapple who had no sleeves and was hacked to bits by his friends “because they were angry”, and the math exams included both a question with no right answer (8th grade) and a question with 2 right answers (4th grade) as well as incorrect translations into languages other than English. Parents and students should discuss opting out of tests not required for graduation, and teachers and leaders should act as providers of information and liaisons to the governing bodies involved starting with the School Board. Schools test partially because there is “money” tied to it and partly because they fear the backlash from their communities if they were to eschew the bombardment of State required testing each spring. When communities come together to express that they neither need the “money” tied to compliance with testing nor that they value the information the tests eventually provide, the educational system is changed.
If the tests were just tests, created by some teacher and used to determine .05% of a student’s overall average like most assignments do, it would be annoying. It would be indicative of sloppy, purposeless practice, and a student would be right in asserting the infidelity of the test results and advocating for a more worthwhile spending of his or her time. But citizens of a state pay $32 million dollars and subject all of its children aged 8-14 through at least 9 hours of this flawed testing – as much as 22 in the case of a student with disabilities – and then use it to determine things like support services and course placement and college admissions. No teacher I’ve ever met loves the testing, good ones can tell you what each student needs to improve upon without them and great ones can get their students to own that information. I don’t hate the playa, I hate the game, which is why I am purposefully modeling for students the change I want them and their families to demand.
What are you doing to call attention to the broken educational system and spur student advocacy?