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Standardized Oppression

Students now perceived on narrow basis of deficits

CAPE stands for Community Alliance for Public Education. CAPE’s goals are to build community around public education and to promote vibrant, honest dialogue that encourages students, families, teachers and community members to work together for a public education that benefits all. 

I got involved in CAPE last year because I believe my primary role as an educator is to ensure that what happens in the classroom is best for all children. In an education climate in which many teachers are fearful of speaking up, I found support in CAPE to begin using my voice to advocate for students.

One of the most pressing issues we face in the classroom is that of standardized testing. Standardized testing is being used more and more as a tool to oppress students. Students are being viewed on the basis of deficits rather than on the reality of the complex, beautiful person each child is, with an array of talents and rich cultural experiences. 

If students cannot pass standardized tests in Oregon, they can no longer graduate from high school. And, beginning this year, students who cannot pass standardized tests (and therefore graduate from high school) cannot receive federal student aid. This is a human rights issue. Whole segments of the population will be unable to afford to go to college (even to finish their GED!). The greatest impact of this will be on low-income students (income is highly correlated with student success on tests), minorities (who have a much greater likelihood of being low-income) and students with disabilities.

Standardized tests evaluate student thinking at a very low level. Emphasis has shifted from creativity, application and evaluation/critical thinking to merely having the ability to describe, explain and remember. In addition, curriculum has narrowed; Not all students get to take even science or social studies classes. Further, each year that’s passed has seen a decrease in arts education, elective classes and physical fitness. When these types of classes can be offered, it is far less likely that students of color, students with disabilities or students who have low-income status will be in them: Those students will be in the remedial/pull-out classes to receive further instruction designed to help them pass standardized tests. 

An example of a true measure of student knowledge is project-based learning, in which students demonstrate complex thinking, problem-solving and apply/evaluate their learning with real, hands-on situations that connect them with their communities. This kind of deep learning has been pushed to the wayside by testing-driven education because it doesn’t fit into a tidy little bubble sheet with “hard data” that can be analyzed from afar. The reality is that only work and measures that are well-rounded can begin to reveal the fullness of the learning of a living, breathing human being. 

For further reading about the impact of testing on education, head over to fairtest.org.