(The following are my remarks at today's press conference announcing the introduction of LD 695, a bill that would make it easier for parents to keep their children from taking standardized tests in public schools)
Good morning. My name is Lisa Cooley, and I live in Jackson. I’ve been on the Maine RSU 3 school board for eleven years. The RSU 3 district covers 11 towns including Thorndike, Unity, Liberty and Brooks. I’m here speaking only for myself.
Everything that we need to do to change public education today, to make it more responsive to our kids, to see them grow as individuals and as connected citizens of today’s world begins with stopping the juggernaut of high-stakes testing and the Common Core.
A healthy learning environment produces students who will be able to enter the adult world of uncertainty and find a way to thrive, and even make the world a better place. Every single child has that potential. The testing regime has created a toxic learning environment where too many children are left behind, disconnected from learning and ill-prepared for successful lives.
With the advent of standards that are enforced by testing, we’ve embraced a regime that runs counter not only to the way kids learn, but to their happiness and fulfillment. Without that fulfillment, we have buildings full of kids who, from the highest achievers to the strugglers, will do exactly what they are asked to do in order to get adults to leave them alone.
The testing regime has had a particularly negative effect on poor school districts. Poor districts don’t do well on standardized tests, yet we continue to push test-driven curricula. And year after year it continues, while we scratch our heads.
My superintendent, Heather Perry, has said in the Bangor Daily News this week, “Our district is a fairly poor district. We simply don’t do well on standardized tests. But that doesn’t mean you throw the tests out. They are useful tools. They help us understand if the programs are working or not.”
We need to put the billions of dollars we’re spending on testing and standards toward programs that not only improve connection to learning for all students, but alleviate the circumstances of poverty for the kids who are born into it: school-based programs and services that help provide some stability for children whose families are living in stressful circumstances. That, plus the engaged learning that springs from students’ strengths and interests, is the only way, short of ending poverty, to ensure that all children regardless of income, become well-educated.
When we look at the apathy and disconnection of kids in today’s schools, it’s no wonder why we’re scared of giving them real voice over their learning. After ten-plus years of high-stakes testing, it’s hard to imagine they will find their innate motivation again. In many cases, it was lost by the time they left middle school.
Everything that we need to do to change public education today begins with ending high-stakes testing. And ending high-stakes testing begins with informing parents of their right to take a stand against it. It doesn’t matter what you believe our ideal schools should look like. A giant monolith, a partnership of government agencies and corporations, have decided for us that our kids need to be tested, and that these test results will govern what happens in our children’s classrooms. (I include Maine’s proficiency-based system, since it’s grafted to the Common Core, as being part of the problem, not the solution.)
We must take this opportunity to take a little bit of power over the direction of education. All we are saying is inform parents that they have this little bit of control. Then let them, the government agencies and corporations, make their case to parents themselves.