Aldeman gets it wrong on testing

Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners has an op-ed in the New York Times pushing to maintain annual high-stakes testing. The piece below is AFT President Randi Weingarten's response to Aldeman.

In his Feb. 6 New York Times op-ed, "In Defense of Annual School Testing (link is external)," Chad Aldeman says he wants to keep the status quo—high-stakes annual testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. He criticizes anyone who suggests we are redesigning a 15-year-old accountability system so that it works for its real purpose—helping all students, particularly disadvantaged students, receive a high-quality public education.

In January, the American Federation of Teachers and the Center for American Progress issued a set of principles for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. At its core was a commitment to equity, and a robust accountability system that uses multiple measures and counts standardized tests once each in elementary, middle and high school as an important first step. At the same time, such a system would limit the high-stakes testing that's taking the joy out of learning and the innovation out of teaching—and frankly has not accomplished ESEA's intended purpose. Since it was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind, the law has used the strategy of annual test-based accountability to try to ensure that every child would be proficient in reading and math by 2014. It didn't work. Instead, NCLB's obsession with testing, combined with Race to the Top and federal waivers, allowed high-stakes testing to eclipse all else, including the children themselves.

We believe annual testing has a role: to provide information and diagnostics on student progress—and of course to ensure students do not become invisible again—but not as a basis for imposing high-stakes, punitive consequences. While no policy will work 100 percent, in an era of "either/or" politics our proposal offers a much-needed "both/and" approach. High-stakes testing shouldn't drive federal policy; the needs of our children should.

That's why our plan takes the focus off high-stakes tests and returns ESEA to its original goal—equity. Ironically, in highlighting how much our high school graduation rate has improved, Aldeman makes a case for how grade-span accountability can work, since that is indeed what happens in high schools now.

Half of public school students live in poverty. More than 30 states fund public education below pre-recession levels. We need to level the playing field and ensure all kids have equal access to things like computers, smaller class sizes, nurses and counselors—even when their communities can't afford them.