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Thompson: Tulsa Cuts Testing Time Fifty-Four Percent!

The Tulsa Public Schools has reduced the time that teachers and students must spend on testing by 54%, or by more than 72 hours. The Tulsa World’s Nour Habib, in Tulsa Public Schools Says District-Mandated Testing Time to be Reduced by 54%, reports that, “The decision to reduce district-mandated tests is based on recommendations from a task force of teachers that was put together last year to study the issue of overtesting in the district. Teacher representatives from all grades were selected based on recommendations by principals and from the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.”

Habib also quotes Shawna Mott-Wright, vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association who says, “We are just ecstatic, over the moon. … We really appreciate all of the work that the testing task force did, and we super appreciate and are very grateful for Dr. [Deborah] Gist listening.”

The reduction of testing is doubly important because it follows the testing cutbacks initiated by the state. The Oklahoma Department of Education was limited by law from making major reductions, but State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has been clear in explaining why we must "push the reset button" on testing.  

Fundamentally, the reconsideration of testing was prompted by a grassroots Opt Out movement of parents, as well as the superintendents of the state’s major school systems. The Tulsa task force was formed after two elementary school teachers made national headlines for refusing to administer “high-stakes student surveys and tests.” Sadly, those two heroes, Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren, are no longer with the TPS. Even more disappointing is the way that Jones tried to remain with the system but every time she would hear that the principal would like to hire her, but that “they had to ‘represent the district.’”

So, the cutback will not in itself stop the cycle of test, sort, reward, and punish. Tulsa doesn’t seem to have much to show from its multimillion dollar Gates Foundation “teacher quality” grant, and as long as it takes the foundation’s money, it will be pressured to continue to impose bubble-in accountability. And, Tulsa has seen 20% of its teachers "exit" in the last 14 months.

Corporate reformers often express horror at the overuse of standardized tests, claiming that it is local districts, not distant foundations and federal officials who mandate the worst tests. But, those protests underscore the top-down reformers’ lack of knowledge of school systems. It should have always been clear that the imposition of unfair, meaningless tests in order to meet unreachable test score targets for systems and individuals would prompt the expansion of cover-your-rear-end metrics.  

It would be nice if the Tulsa cutbacks could become a “teachable moment" for edu-philanthropy and the USDOE. After all, the policy was announced by Chief for Change Gist and from what I hear she seemed to respect the judgments of teachers who are fed up with bubble-in schooling.

The majority of the Tulsa’s reductions were achieved by making “check-in tests” optional. Last year, check-in tests accounted for nearly 4,000 minutes — or about 66 hours — worth of district-mandated tests. In most places, these “check-ins” are called benchmarks.

These assessments, ostensibly, are diagnostic, and they have the potential to be very valuable. In the fearful climate of today, however, check-ins, benchmarks, and other snapshots can be devastating. When teachers are required to teach according to an aligned and coordinated curriculum pacing “guide,” monitored by district tests, the result often is skin-deep, in-one-ear, out-the-other, worksheet-driven instruction. If this is Tuesday, every class is supposed to be on the same page while rushing through the testable curriculum. These hurried guides can make it impossible to teach for mastery in engaging manner.

That is why we must transform the disgusting school cultures created by test-driven reforms. If principals still feel obligated to mandate soul-killing teach-to-the-test, Tulsa’s victory will be pyrrhic. If the district continues to listen as it did to parents and the task force, Oklahomans will reclaim our schools.-JT (@drjohnthompson)



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