By "high-stakes testing" the union means any testing that might have consequences for students and especially for teachers. The union argues that there's now so much testing that it severely distracts from teaching and learning. The union wants to replace "high-stakes" testing with what it calls "progress tests" whose scoring would diminish right and wrong answers -- measures of knowledge -- and instead measure things like how students get along with others.
That is, tests would not be standardized, their results would not be comparable across schools and school systems, scoring would be arbitrary, teachers would be in charge of it and in charge of determining how the performance of their students was presented, test data would become meaningless or misleading, and what remains of accountability in public education in Connecticut would be destroyed.
Still, the union is right about "high-stakes" testing but for the wrong reason.
For despite the CEA's complaints, there really isn't that much federally or state-mandated standardized testing in Connecticut's schools, just one annual test for grades 3 through 8 and then just one test in high school. While high school also involves college admission tests, these are discretionary and not numerous anyway.
If a single "high-stakes" test every year is convulsing Connecticut's schools, it may be because students are not learning much. In 2010 a state study found that two-thirds of the freshmen in the state community college and university systems were being required to take remedial English or math or both. Last year a test of Connecticut high school seniors, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reached a similar conclusion -- that half had not mastered high school English and two-thirds had not mastered high school math. Yet nearly everyone was given a high school diploma anyway.
That's because the unacknowledged policy of public education in Connecticut is never to hold students to standards but to promote them from grade to grade even if they fail to learn and to keep them in school even if they are disruptive or dangerous. (Educators lately have been celebrating a decline in arrests of students in school as if this equates to a decline in disruption rather than its acceptance.) Educators have decided that eliminating standards and dumbing down everything is better than hurting anyone's feelings, that awarding diplomas that are only embossed lies is better than education.
Students know this -- know that their learning has no bearing on their advancement in school, that their tests are polite fictions, and that they will be graduated no matter what they do short of manslaughter.
Teachers know this as well and don't want to be judged by the performance of their students when students themselves can't be judged by it. But teachers lack the courage to protest the destruction of standards. Instead with its new advertising campaign the CEA proposes concealment of the disaster.
Connecticut's "high-stakes" testing system should be scrapped not because it is too much of a burden on students and teachers, as the CEA pretends, and not because teachers object to serious and independent evaluation, but because it is a deception, implying standards that were discarded long ago.
Of course state and federal law will still require administering to students every year something posing as a test, but teachers could be assured, as students already are, that the results will not be held against them. Education in Connecticut then can remain what it has become, the problem of employers -- if any stick around. Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.