New pledge aims to tame the testing burden

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The growing fixation on testing is crushing the creativity and effectiveness of teachers in the classroom. Thoughtful educators, parents and even policymakers are determined to tame this beast and put testing where it belongs: where it can be used as a diagnostic tool, rather than as a threat hanging over the heads of students and the teachers trying desperately to reach them in more effective, meaningful ways.

Thousands of AFT members are joining the education community, pledging to use tests to inform, not impede, teaching and learning. The pledge is a first step toward a resolution being introduced at the AFT national convention in July. You can add your voice by signing the petition.

Test-driven education policies are treacherous on a number of levels: Most important, they rob students of deeper learning opportunities by forcing educators to abandon lessons in critical thinking in order to teach to the test. These high-stakes tests also discourage young, passionate, talented teachers, often pushing them into alternative careers; they threaten teachers at all levels of experience by tying students' test success to teachers' career advancement.

That's not to say that testing can't be helpful. Balanced with thoughtful curricula and teacher-driven policy crafted through expertise and creativity, testing can be an important tool to diagnose students' strengths and weaknesses. But as an indiscriminate bludgeon used to determine funding and even school closures, testing is destructive, threatening the personalized approach that works so well in giving all our students the opportunity to succeed.

AFT president Randi Weingarten recalls from personal experience how inspiring the classroom can be when tests are set aside and teachers can engage students more deeply. "My students were most engaged during project-based learning, when they worked in teams and wrestled with complex topics, such as the decision to drop the atomic bomb during World War II," she wrote the Huffington Post. She goes on to say that her proudest moment as an educator was watching her students compete in the We the People civics competition and observing—after all their preparation—the confidence with which the teams debated constitutional issues.

"Those are the kinds of educational experiences that excite students and teachers alike," says Weingarten. "Teachers don't want to spend valuable time endlessly preparing for 'the test.' They want to guide their students to ask insightful questions, offer well-reasoned opinions, and work diligently until they master content. Those are the types of classroom experiences that unleash students' ingenuity and reveal their understanding of the material." [Virginia Myers]

June 21, 2012