Media sources, including Newsday, suggest that those who participate in the growing opt-out movement — whose epicenter in New York State is Long Island — are shills for teachers unions wanting to protect their membership from being evaluated by student test scores. While it is true that a union’s job is to protect its constituency, critics of the opt-out movement miss the point.
Standardized tests, especially those based on the ill-conceived Common Core curriculum, do not reflect student potential. They create a bogus number field to be used for ranking purposes of, yes, teachers, but also of schools and children. Of all the targets of today’s number-driven craze in education, students are the only ones without a voice. As an educator for more than 45 years on Long Island — a teacher, principal and superintendent — I have witnessed myriad approaches to the challenging task of evaluating student growth.
While many of these methods were flawed, none is more egregious than the current approach that mandates testing students with a standardized instrument for third through eighth grades. The time has come to declare that children have rights regarding their individual needs during the fragile process of learning about the world.
n Freedom from fear of failure. A child’s self-concept is assaulted when he or she is labeled a failure. It took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he was successful in inventing the light bulb. If we used today’s testing standard to evaluate Edison’s work, we would be sitting in the dark.
n The right to imagine. Instead of classroom time devoted to the joy of creativity, months and months of instructional time are spent preparing to fill in bubble sheets. This, despite Einstein’s dictum: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
n Freedom from age-inappropriate scrutiny. Asking absurd questions well beyond a child’s reach is confusing to the child and yields useless information.
n The right to play. Children’s genius is most evident when they are free to play with little or no restrictions. They learn to negotiate, they learn to collaborate, they learn their own limits. Moving their bodies comes naturally; sitting for hours drilling for right answers to test prep questions undermines this healthy impulse.
n Freedom from being reduced to a number. Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard socio-biologist, claimed that because intelligence is beyond our capacity to fully understand, we assign a number to it so that we can make the distinctions that our culture and politics demand. We succumb to this fallacy when we tell a child that he/she is a level 2 or 3 or 4 based on a test.
n The right to be a child. Children are not little adults. They are best served when we recognize that they are a peculiar and magical breed.
The opt-out movement, while chastised for its purportedly political aims, ultimately may reverse the misbegotten standardized approach to evaluation. In the meantime, let’s commit to defending the rights of our schoolchildren.
Arnold Dodge is chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.