Monday, February 18, 2013

Education Reform Guest Column by Dr. James D. Kirylo

School Reform and Standardized Tests: Parents Have Much Power

By Dr. James D. Kirylo
February 18, 2013
Guest Column - 850 words

Recently an important education forum was held at First United Methodist Church in Hammond.  I had the privilege of sitting on the panel that comprised of other educators, state legislators, and proactive community members, and was particularly impressed with the over 200 plus people that attended the spirited forum.  Naturally a variety of critical issues were discussed relative to school reform, and here I am following up on some further reflections. 

It is worth pointing out that especially by opportunistic politicians the concept of school reform has been proclaimed ad nauseam particularly in the last near 30 years. One would think that we would have nailed it down by now in “fixing” our schools or we would at some point realize that we are actually living out the insanity that is popularly defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  This is no more apparent in our obsession with standardized tests, and to help contextualize the point, a brief peek back in recent history is in order.

The interpretation of how school reform should be filtered has its contemporary foundation dating back to A Nation at Risk (Reagan Administration), which influenced the direction of subsequent reform initiatives such as America 2000 (Bush I), Goals 2000 (Clinton), No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (Bush II), and now the Race to the Top program (Obama).  As one examines each of these reform packages, it becomes apparent that the emphasis on assessment increasingly rises in importance.  And with NCLB and even Race to the Top, the culmination of that importance takes center stage.  

No longer simply labeled as testing, but now referred to as “high-stakes” testing, our present conversations of what is critical in school reform has morphed into what can be characterized as corporate speak.  In other words, we have become so enamored with the convenience of explaining school reform with detached terminology—such as outcomes, results, performance, monetary rewards, takeover, failing schools, competition, A, B, C, D, F labels for schools, and comparing and contrasting—that we have created a system that is analogous to describing a-for-profit corporation, which ultimately results in the creation of “winners” and “losers.”  In the end, this type of system fosters the objectification of school-aged children, possesses an extraordinarily constricted view of what is educationally important, and largely blames teachers for anything that ails education. 

As a consequence, it is now terribly obvious to many that the emphasis on standardized tests, which has cost billions, has harmed children, has chased excellent teachers out of the profession, and has created an overall toxic environment in our schools.  It is, therefore, no surprise that teachers in Seattle, WA have taken a step in boycotting the irrational use of tests, that a Pencils Down Campaign has been launched in Chicago, IL, that a group of high school students in Providence, RI held a protest in order to halt this testing madness, that over 1000 professors in New York alone have publically declared their opposition to standardized tests, citing that these tests have failed to improve schools, and that every credible professional education organization has denounced the extraordinary emphasis on testing.

And so, to shift from doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results with respect to viewing standardized tests as the almighty arbitrator of insidiously judging our school-aged youngsters and teachers, we need to begin by reframing the discussion with concepts that explore schooling as a place where we authentically tap into the multiple intelligences of naturally curious children, where we discuss the meaning of engaged teaching and meaningful learning, and where we consider assessment that is holistic.  

In short, the task of the educator is to inculcate in a developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive way and the task of policy makers, political types, and others is to seek a deep understanding as to what all that means.
And particularly for parents who possess an incredible amount of power to impact change, their task—obviously parenting being the most important—is to pay close attention to the conversations, practices, and policies on how high-stakes testing is having an overall negative impact on our schools, on their children.  As a matter of fact, if Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, or Thomas Edison were especially attending school in the contemporary way we assess, evaluate, and judge our students and schools, those three would have been the poster boys of what is wrong with our public schools because of their lack of “performance.”  

In the final analysis, standardized tests have terribly curbed creativity, critical thinking, the arts, and have disturbingly narrowed the curriculum.  In other words, they have set extraordinary limits as to what is deemed important to learn.  

As a consequence, children have robotically learned that schooling is about passing a test instead of learning to fall in love with learning.

To that end, I strongly encourage parents (and other concerned citizens) to consider some push-back regarding these testing factories we call schools.  I welcome your emails of interest to generate that movement.  Moreover, below I offer a few websites to provide more critical information (;;;

James D. Kirylo is the author of the book PauloFreire: The Man from Recife, and can be reached at

Reprinted with permission.  
Blogger Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website at

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