Be the change, being a teacher, being me, reflection, Student-centered, testing

Why I Will Not Refuse to Give the Tests

image from icanread

I was told this week to just refuse to give standardized tests.  Just like that.  And while the person who told me probably meant well in their statement, I don’t think they realize how big of an action that would be.  I have long blogged about how standardized testing such as the WKCE here is Wisconsin is not an accurate measurement of what a student really knows, but rather a snapshot of that very moment they took the test.  I have also been vocal in my opposition to what that data sometime is used for and how we end up labeling students, teachers, schools, and entire districts on a meaningless measure that does little to emulate what we really do in our classroom.  And sure, I have dreamed of refusing to simple administer it in my room.  But that’s it, a dream, because in reality it probably wouldn’t do much for anyone but me.

If I were to refuse administering these state mandated tests, I would get in trouble.  That is an absolute guarantee.  And while I have never been one to shy away from too much controversy, the kind of trouble this time would be much bigger than a write up.  I could even lose my job for failing to do my duties.  To some that may not seem like a big deal, after all, I should be standing up for my students and their rights, my own opinions, I should protect those children that I teach from the tests.  But my job is vital to my own children.  My job is our health insurance.  My job gives us just enough money so that we can pay our bills.  I wish my husband had a huge paying job, he doesn’t, and so we are a very dependent two income family.  So losing my job refusing tests just isn’t something I can rationally do and in a sense, I am not sure I should be the one refusing the tests anyway.

Teachers can try to change education as much as we want.  Many do.  We write, we speak out, we try things in our own classrooms that we hope will spread to others.  We stand up for what we believe in, we spread our message.  But in the end we are just the teachers.  The real change must come from outside the classroom, from school administration, from school boards, from government, but they will not change until one group speaks out:  parents.  The real change must come from parents.  The real opposition must come from those who entrust their children to us.  They are the ones that can decide whether a test is harmful or inaccurate.  They are the ones that can choose to opt out.   I am not the one that decides whether testing  will harm a child or not, I can have my opinions sure, but in the end the decision does not rest with me and as long as parents willingly have their children tested then my job is to test them.

So while I can dream of refusing to test my students it will only stay a dream until the parents whose children I get to teach are the ones that decide that things should change.  We may think as teachers that it is only our responsibility to speak up and that if we don’t then no one else will.  This is not true anymore.  We may be the ones that start the conversation but others have to join the fight.  Whatever they believe in.  So when I am told I should simply refuse, I hope others see how it is not that easy.  How my refusal will do little for my students and only harm to my own family.  And while I would sacrifice my life for my students if I ever had to, I will not sacrifice my job in a non-lethal situation.  I will not sacrifice the life of my own children for something that many others do not see as a big deal.  Would you?




29 thoughts on “Why I Will Not Refuse to Give the Tests”

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve read similar sentiments in other places and I’ve found that those who write them aren’t in your situation or my situation because they have nothing to lose when they advocate for opting out of standardized testing.

    I have a family as well and while my pay is absolute crap, I still need it to get by. Furthermore, I wonder how effective refusing to give a test would be. If I did so and I got fired, they’d hire someone else and life would go on. A true, more permanent change or solution will take time and effort and will come with an enormous amount of frustration.

    But that doesn’t sound very sexy, I guess.

    1. Tom, you brought up a great point I forgot to include. If I refuse someone else will do it. And while that is not a thing to run and hide behind, it does mean that if I am the only one refusing I am not accomplishing much rather than sending a message. My family cannot get fed on a message.

  2. One must always work within a system in order to have influence. Change takes time and patience and revolutionary methods creates tension that won’t benefit schools as organizations or the students.
    Keep up the good work with your students!

  3. Dear Pernille,

    I was told this week to just refuse to give standardized tests. Just like that.

    The “just like that” reflects more the limits of Twitter than it does the thinking behind that kind of action. Since our jobs are on the line, let’s make it clear that I am just presenting the arguments behind it, not advocating for any specific position. (How’s that for cowardice?) I think people who advocate such actions do indeed realize how big a deal it is–just speaking about it aloud involves risk.

    Simply refusing to give the tests, on your own, is Quixotic grandstanding and does no one any good. We would be fired, nothing would change, and we’d become a forgotten footnote at best.

    The administration of the tests is the linchpin of the testing complex, and the tests are driving the curriculum now. If it was just a day of discomfort for the kids and boredom for the teachers, there would be no issue. Public ed tolerates both discomfort and boredom.

    If you believe, however, that the current testing regimen has profoundly different effects on poor children, children of color, on the disabled, and on the school districts that serve them–and there is evidence to support that idea–then targeting the complex at its linchpin makes sense.

    I am not saying you should boycott the test–much of your reasoning is valid, and it is ultimately up to parents (and all other citizens as well) to determine which way public schools should go.

    I am saying that if you truly believe that children are being damaged by a curriculum driven by testing imposed by a few powerful folks, and that blocking testing would effectively alter the dangerous course we’re headed, then you could make a rational and ethical case for an organized boycott, which is not “to just refuse to give standardized tests. Just like that.”

    That I am reticent to even point this out shows how deep fear has entered a once proud profession.

    1. Michael, you also bring up great points which is why I love your comment. While this particular statement did come from a Twitter exchange that you were part of and thus muc simplified, this is not the only time it has been expressed. I have been told it face to face and in comments as well.
      I agree the administration is the linchpin and if there needs to be any effect or waves created than courageous teachers need to boycott, however, the successful boycotts that have been created around the country have been more focused on MAP testing rather than then state mandated one, I believe. And I do believe a rational and ethical case could be made for that, however, I wonder if teachers even did that against the state test – would it have any effect other than a headline? Would it be the spark that starts something or just another teacher sacrificing themselves for nothing?
      (Not sure my comments makes sense, thinking aloud).

  4. Please never say that you are “just the teacher”. You are so much more than that. While you may have to give the tests you are still an amazing advocate for the children you come in contact with, even if just briefly. You will never be “just the teacher”!

  5. I agree 100% with you. Parents have to take the stand against testing. There are a couple of states that have big parent led anti-test groups (Texas and I think NY) but here in Va. haven’t heard a peep.

  6. Here in California we face similar test mandates, similar pressure to raise scores, and similar calls to conscientious objection. Because losing good teachers like us would be so counterproductive, I give the test, do what I can to help the kids score well, and cleverly disguise my opposition to the whole idea. This is the speech I give before the test:

    “Kids, you’re about to take your sixth grade state test. You’ve already taken the fifth grade version, the fourth, the third, and the second. This year, it’ll be the most important test you’ll take, but when you consider its importance to your entire life, it’s really not very important at all. Nobody is going to ask you for the score report from your sixth grade state test. Not when you go to high school. Not when you apply for college. Not on a job application. Never. This isn’t the test.

    There is a test, however, coming to you sometime that IS THE TEST. Sometime in your life, you’re going to find yourself sitting in a room with a hundred other people, all taking the most important test of your lives. Maybe you want to go to Stanford. You and thousands of other people, right? They all take a test, the SAT, and only the highest scorers get accepted. Maybe you want to be a surgeon. There’s a test for that, actually several, and you have to pass them all. Maybe you want to be a jet pilot. You and everybody’s brother. That takes test after test after test, and you can’t fail. Fail, and you don’t fly the jet; you watch its glowing dot on a radar screen, or maybe change its oil.

    Which brings us back to today. Today’s test, as insignificant as it is, is practice. Today you’ll learn the most important skill of all: Facing a test with confidence, perseverance, and aplomb. Facing a room full of people all taking the same test as you are and knowing you can dominate. Facing problems that have answers and doing what it takes to find those answers. Do it today so you know you can do it when it really counts. Get yourself into Stanford, become a doctor, fly that jet. Dominate those tests like you’re going to dominate this one. You can do it.”

    1. I love the comments your posts stimulate. I agree with Sara: don’t ever say “you’re just the teacher.” Teachers and parents are the centerpiece of a child’s life.
      My California colleague above shows how to approach testing a way that makes sense. We need to help our students navigate their world and tests do matter sometimes. Speaking out, as you do. is essential. That’s another reason why you are never “just a teacher.” Words motivate, mobilize, and create dialogue. This does make a difference. There is tremendous power to do great good. Keep it up!

    2. I have said similar things to students – just to encourage them on unit tests. I first ask all students about their career goals. Virtually every career they mention requires a test to get certified or licensed. So consider each test practice. It doesn’t reflect everything you know; it reflects your ability to use what you know to answer certain questions. As long as our careers & ability to earn a decent salary are dependent on this skill, keep practicing.

  7. Pernille,
    I always enjoy the honesty and edgy thinking behind your words. You are right that refusing to give tests is not something we can do “just like that.” There are many implications to refusing to give tests. Tests are a small part of the work we do though we all know the dramatic effect they have on all we do. I’m not sure our refusal would result in the change we really need.

    These words caught me attention, “Teachers can try to change education as much as we want. Many do. We write, we speak out, we try things in our own classrooms that we hope will spread to others. We stand up for what we believe in, we spread our message. But in the end we are just the teachers. The real change must come from outside the classroom, from school administration, from school boards, from government.” I’m just not sure about that.

    A few years ago I sat with Ken Goodman at the NCTE Elementary Gathering. He said something to our group that I will not be able to perfectly quote. His point, however, was that we as educators do have power if we speak up, unite, and advocate vocally for what is best for children. We aren’t just teachers, but instead are educators who know our work best. Yet we continually follow the requirements set out for us by politicians, administrators, and those don’t always have the best interests of children in mind.

    The answers are not easy as it is a complex issue. However, I think the answer lies in the hands of educators who work alongside children every day. I agree that change will require more than our refusal to give a test.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thinking,

    1. Hi Cathy, Thank you for sharing yours as well. I think more emphasis is being put on the “just the teacher part.” More so what I mean by it is that the conversations starts with us but it is in our role as parents and advocates outside of the classroom that we can often do more. (At least that has been my experience). However, I also agree that we do have the power to speak up, to unite, and to fight for change – just look at the massive protest here in Wisconsin due to ACT 10. But we cannot do it alone, the change may start with us but will require others to join.

  8. Hmmm! I understand completely what you are saying. I understand that our comfortable American way of life sometimes gets in the way of our principles. It does concern me when folks say, “I am just a teacher,” or “I am just a regular guy trying to make a living.”

    I also find it ironic that many of us talk negatively about politicians and educational leaders and how they don’t have the courage to stand up for principles. The politicians rationalize their behavior the same way saying things like, “I can’t be effective if I don’t get reelected.” So on it goes, I wonder what type of country we would live in today if our founding fathers said, “You know, we can fight, but we will probably be killed. I have a family that needs me. I know we hate that evil king George and his taxes are ridiculous and he is strangling our economy, but I just can’t afford to give up what little I have just to stand up for what I believe in.”

    Come to think about it, this is why our government is the way it is now. Most people (at last check it was way over 60%) do not agree with the direction our country is headed. Yet how many of us are out fighting to get it changed? Again, the same rational applies “I am too busy and I have a family to take care of and I need my meager income just to pay my bills.” OK, reminds me of the scene in Braveheart in which the Scottish lords are all sitting around complaining but not willing to act. Braveheart says (I paraphrase), “You are all so busy fighting over the scraps off Longshank’s table that you fail to see what feast can be yours.” Ok maybe that wasn’t the exact quote, but it gets the idea across and it fits the holiday season. I think most American’s are like this. We are doing OK, but not great, but not bad enough to stand up for what we believe in.

    Don’t take me wrong, I am not slamming you for your position. I truly understand and we must each make our own decisions. I love teaching, but there are some things I am asked to do that I just will not. I take the position that I can always find another job and if sacrificing my principles is a deal breaker, then so be it. Let me know and I will leave.

    So I ask that you please consider, what would make you walk away from teaching? If your were told that you had to teach creationism and could not teach evolution, would you walk? How about vice versa? If they told you that you had to teach that Communism was a superior form of government, would you walk? If you were told you must give every child a passing grade whether he deserved it or not, would you walk? How about if you were told you could never pass a child that did not show absolute mastery of the standards, would you walk? How about if you were told the citizens decided you make too much money for what you do and you need to take a 10%, 20%, 30% pay cut, would you walk then?

    I think during this Thanksgiving holiday we should all stop and reflect. And we need to ask ourselves, “What principles (not life or death situations) are we willing to stand up for, put our comfort level on the line, and take a stand for?” If the answer is none, then we must be willing to accept the crumbs of those who are willing to stand up and fight for their beliefs.

    Happy Holidays!

    1. I don’t feel slammed at all. I have principals as well that would make me leave my job and many of those things you mention would force me out. In fact, that is an ongoing conversation with my husband and I, when do we leave because we cannot stand behind the words we are supposed to teach or back up the decisions? I think some of the things you are mentioning in fact are happening in education, I know my pay has been cut thanks to our governor and it does make me want to leave but that is a conversation for another day. There are many things that would make me quit instantly, I just hope they don’t happen in my district. SO I agree with you, we must have principles to fight for.

      1. At the same time, the comment you just replied to was the long form version of the “just don’t give the test” Tweet. It checked off ALL the boxes on the sanctimonious comment checklist.

      2. This is actually a response to TP’s post below. I don’t see a reply button under his post. In actuality, I am in favor of a state test. I don’t advocate not having one or refusing to administer it. I don’t particularly care for what it has become, but I understand why it came about. I do see evidence to support the assertion that left to our own devices, many teachers will choose to teach only the fun and easy lessons and not push our students far enough. I am all for accountability and for assessing mastery. We all have to take tests so we may as well get over it and learn to live with that fact. But that was not the point of my post. My post was simply to inspire self reflection and for each person to ask the questions, “What do I really stand for and which hills AM I willing to die on.” Have a great day!

  9. As a parent and teacher candidate, I have been thinking about standardized tests a lot! I think there is a lack of public education regarding the tests themselves. Most people, like I until I started my education course work, assume these are tests that easily can be finished in under two hours and are just covering basic skills that are taught in schools anyway. I was shocked to hear that one subject of an MSP test for elementary students here in WA state can take ALL day! I believe parents will be speak up when they can be truly educated on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the tests instead of all of the doom and gloom that leads us to believe basic reading and arithmetic are not being taught.

    1. This is so true, I did not fully understand standardized testing until I saw it first hand. Luckily Wisconsin is not as bad as some states but still… I have had many conversations with friends that have wondered what it really looks like. They simply do not know.

  10. Parents were one of the driving forces in changing some of the high stakes testing in Texas this year. What we got with the legislation is far from perfect but it’s at least a step in the right direction. I believe that we are working towards something that may be better down the road. I think you’re absolutely right that it begins with parents.

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