Table of Contents

    Cover Theme
  • "Rewriting the Script"

    Together, the following eight articles outline how the standards-tests-punishment machine has subverted public schools from their democratic promise. With action, we can write a future where education isn't a soulless profit machine for the few.
  • Think Less Benchmarks

    A flawed test does more harm than good

    Authored By Amy Gutowski

    "Thanks to the folks at the Discovery Channel, that TV channel with the nifty little logo of the earth spinning, my 8-year-old students have four more opportunities to stop learning and fill in the bubbles."

  • Cover Story
  • Beyond NCLB

    Authored By Monty Neill

    A new era requires new thinking

  • Teaching in Dystopia

    Testing’s stranglehold on education

    Authored By Wayne Au

    "The problem is this: Testing is killing education. Not only is it narrowing the curriculum generally, it promotes bad pedagogy, while making some private companies very rich in the process."

  • Reading First, Libraries Last

    Scripted programs undermine teaching and children's love of books

    Authored By Rachel Cloues

    "In these bleak NCLB days of regimented, scripted reading programs and financially drained school districts, I am deeply worried about the future of elementary school libraries."

  • The Scripted Prescription

    A cure for childhood

    Authored By Peter Campbell, Peter Campbell

    Testing mania reaches the pre-K classroom.  "It saddened me to think that my daughter's first impression of school was based on taking a test and failing it."

  • Bogus Claims About Reading First

    Authored By Stephen Krashen

    When it comes to Reading First, don’t believe the hype

  • Textbook Scripts, Student Lives

    A math teacher goes beyond the standardized curriculum

    Authored By Jana Dean

    "Textbooks, published by corporations that have much to gain by maintaining business as usual, aren't likely to press students to envision a future any different from the past and present."

  • Bonfire of the Disney Princesses

    Authored By Barbara Ehrenreich

    Contrary to their spin machine, Disney’s princesses are far from role models

  • Underfunded Schools Cut Past Tense from Language Programs

    By The Onion

    "A part of American school curricula for more than 200 years, the past tense was deemed by school administrators to be too expensive to keep in primary and secondary education."
  • TV Selfishness and Violence Explode During 'War On Terror

    2nd graders discover new trends in TV since 9/11

    Authored By Margot Pepper

    "Six years into the 'War on Terror,' my 2nd-grade Spanish immersion students found that aggression, selfishness, and insults have exploded on national television."

  • Queer Matters

    Educating educators about Homophobia

    Authored By William DeJean, Anne Rene Elsebree

    "While we were excited to support the opening of the educational closet, unintentionally we became seen as the 'residential experts' for all things queer."

  • Feeding Two Birds With One Hand

    Why educators should demand a national health care plan

    Authored By Bob Peterson

    "I can't imagine any teacher union leader or local school board member who wouldn't welcome a new federal program that would make the issue of healthcare benefits a moot point in bargaining."

  • Building Teacher Solidarity

    Larry Kuehn talks about building ties between teachers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States

    translation missing: en.articles.interviewers Bob Peterson

    “I would really like to see a new movement that gives the kind of hope
    for change that there was when I came into teaching in the late 1960s.”

  • Cover Stories
  • The Power of Words

    Authored By Linda Christensen

    Top-down mandates masquerade as social justice reforms

  • Departments Free
  • Short Stuff
  • Resources
  • Review
  • Letters to the Editors
  • Good Stuff

    Authored By Herb Kohl

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Think Less Benchmarks

A flawed test does more harm than good
Think Less Benchmarks

I'm staring at this bulging envelope on my desk. It's a big envelope, much larger than your typical letter-sized envelope, you know, a big one, one that could fit about 15 test booklets and answer sheets. It was just dropped off by our school's "literacy coach." I put quotes around these two words because I often wonder why she was given that title. Much of what she does has nothing to do with literacy. I think we should just call her the "test passer-outer" or something like that, because that is really the bulk of what she does throughout the school year. Positions like these have been hijacked by testing crusaders in schools and districts around the country. Originally, our district adopted these ThinkLink benchmark assessments for schools identified as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (which was disturbing enough: "Our kids are failing, so let's make them take more tests.") Then last year I learned that virtually all schools were being forced to participate regardless of AYP status.

ThinkLink tests are designed to mirror the format of our state assessments. According to the district and to the salespeople at ThinkLink the ThinkLink "formative" assessments would help our district better predict student performance on our state's high-stakes exams. These high-stakes tests are aligned with our state's arbitrary set of standards for each grade level, standards that tend to be incredibly unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate.

There are four benchmark tests a year. Thanks to the folks at the Discovery Channel, that TV channel with the nifty little logo of the earth spinning, my 8-year-old students have four more opportunities to stop learning and fill in the bubbles. The folks at Discovery Education have added an extension to their suite of services. They've branched into the assessment market and now produce ThinkLink formative assessments for districts across the country.

According to the catchy little press release from Discovery Education: "Discovery Education acquired ThinkLink Learning in April 2006, expanding the business unit's high-quality products and services to include formative assessment. ThinkLink pioneered a unique approach to formative assessment that uses a scientifically research-based continuous improvement model that maps diagnostic assessment to state high-stakes tests." So essentially, it's an expensive assessment program our district spent roughly $400,000 on it this year built on the assumption that repeated testing of children will help them to do better on tests. Forget about reading specialists, art, music, school psychologists, nurses, social workers, or support staff. It's ThinkLink to the rescue!

This is why the overstuffed envelope has landed on my desk. My first impulse is to chuck it in the trash. I'm sure this is the impulse of any teacher who has actually read these assessments. The first time I saw a ThinkLink benchmark I was shocked and dismayed. It was poorly written (e.g., "There was once a little peasant girl. She was pretty as a star in its season. Her real name was Blanchette. She was called Little Goldenhood because of a wonderful little coat with a hood she always wore."); riddled with errors (e.g., "I think of my summers on Grandpa's farm."); and developmentally inappropriate (e.g., "Reread the title of the story: The Armadillo: A Shelled Mammal. What happens when ed is added to the word shell in the title?

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