Over the past few weeks, and for the next few weeks, Arizona’s schools will be administering the AZMerit test. As in past testing seasons, parents will protest, children will cry, and school administrators will bully.
The pattern is as predictable as is the Arizona governor’s and lawmakers’ failure to protect parents, students, and teachers from the meaningless and invasive high-stakes testing promoted by the chambers of commerce and school “reformers.”
Because the AZMerit test was not tested prior to its rollout last year, officials are using Arizona’s students as Guinea pigs to test the test. As a result, the results of the test cannot be used to determine much of anything. With a moratorium placed on the test results, the entirety of Arizona’s school children – rather than a sample group – are being used to fine tune the test so that someday it might be valid.
In the meantime, the data gathered through the test will eventually make its way to data miners. That data, will in turn, be used to sell us other useless products and policies. We know the data does not help teachers improve their performance. We know the data will not lead to a change in our academic standards if there is no will to change and improve our standards.
So why are we doing this? Is it some pathological desire to torture kids, parents, and teachers? Is it really all about the money? In her article, The Schools’ War On Arizona’s Children: Part 1, Anita Christy exposes the abuse of parents and kids at the hands of school administrators over these past few weeks. The stories are horrifying.
Lawmakers leave us at a loss
Arizona is a Red State. Republicans are expected to believe in parental primacy and support parental authority. Governor Ducey paid lip service to it while he was running in the Republican Primary, but it has become eminently clear that he does not support parents, and does support Common Core and its invasive high-stakes testing. Surrounding himself with “reformers” like Lisa Graham Keegan, parents were soon forgotten when he took office.
A handful of lawmakers came to the discussion with no intention other than to represent their constituents. It is those lawmakers, like Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and Rep. Paul Boyer, who have vested economic interests in charter schools that have led the fight against parental authority.
An email reporting that children are being disenfranchised in Farnsworth’s Benjamin Franklin charter school chain is making its way into the mailboxes of Arizona parents, grandparents, and education activists. Allegedly, Farnsworth has allowed children in his schools, whose parents dare to exercise their parental authority to refuse the testing of their children, to be denied the same opportunities as children whose parents permit them to be subject to testing.
What could drive lawmakers to aggressively deny parental authority is unknown. Some say that charter school proponents believe that as long as parents still have some sway in traditional public schools they will prefer those over charter schools. The thinking is that anything that makes traditional public schools as desirable as charter schools slows the exodus to privately owned schools. Some of the more paranoid traditional school proponents go so far as to claim that Republicans are trying to starve schools in order to drive parents away from the crumbling traditional schools.
If Farnsworth’s schools are an example of charters’ approach to testing, then they are no more desirable than traditional schools. And one only has to look at the number of traditional public school board members who visited Boston this weekend for the National School Board Association event on the taxpayers’ dimes, to know that our schools are not starving.
As Christy writes in her article, “If your child doesn’t “take the test,” the schools are afraid that: 1) They are violating Arizona law; 2) They will lose Title 1 money from the federal government; 3) They will get a poor ranking from the Arizona Education Department; 4) The teacher will get a poor evaluation.”
That is certainly what they claim, and as Christy has noted time and time again in various articles, none of those claims are true.
The chamber controls
Because parents fear the well-documented retaliation against kids whose parents opt them out of testing, it is really only lawmakers who can protect parents and kids. The problem is that the Democrats in the Arizona Legislature are woefully uninformed. They believe the Title 1 money loss lie. They also refuse to work with Republicans on any issue that might smack of rejecting a federal mandate.
What they fail to understand is that there is no longer a federal mandate that could cost their schools money. The latest version of ESSA leaves many decisions and the consequences for those decisions up to the states. It is now up to the states to decide what the consequences might be for allowing parents to opt out. ESSA includes a provision that 95 percent of school children should be tested. It is silent as to what pool from which that percent must be drawn. As a result, Arizona could deem as acceptable the testing of 95 percent of students, whose parents opt in to testing.
For their part, too many Republicans in the Legislature work in the service of the chambers of commerce only. They receive their marching orders and never question anything. Other lawmakers rely on what little information is fed to them by hordes of chamber-type lobbyists. The lobbyists spew the false accountability narrative created by the likes of Michelle Rhee. Lawmakers lick it up and spit it back out at constituents.
Because we know that testing does not enhance accountability and there is no real specific mandate, one can only conclude that it is not improving teacher performance and losing money that are concerns. It is the people who are making the money that are driving this train.
Starve the beast
Data can be used to justify any bogus program and sell any bogus product. From all day kindergarten to ugly Christmas sweaters, data can be generated to generate a demand. Until we devalue data, data will fuel the fight against parental authority.
The only way to devalue data is to prevent nongovernmental entities from accessing students’ personally identifiable information. Superintendent Douglas has made some effort to reform data delivery. It isn’t enough.
This week, the Legislature might take a small step by passing HB2088; informed consent. The bill requires that schools must have permission from parents before students can take surveys asking about students’ religion, guns in the home, sexual behavior, and political beliefs. If it passes, it will be a small step in the right direction.
A handful of brave lawmakers tried in vain this year to protect data mining and they ran up against behemoths like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and the chambers’ servants in the House and Senate chambers. The beasts won for now.
Small signs are popping up all over Arizona urging parents to opt out. The only way to beat the aforementioned beasts is to starve them. The only way to starve them is to opt out. Now is your chance parents; if you haven’t done it yet – just do it now.