Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Beyond High Stakes Testing" 
Adapted from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, 1967 Speech.
By:  Becca Ritchie

I come to this meeting tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I found myself in full accord with the saying: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to high stakes standardized testing.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, teachers do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of dreadful policy, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our vision, but we must speak.
For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems to perpetuate the message that our schools are failing..
Over the past five years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the education policies, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the high stakes testing?” Why are you joining the voices of dissent. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which our students live.
Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the testing was doing far more than devastating the hopes of our students. We were taking the students of color and poverty crippled by our society and incarcerating them in numbers that are unacceptable. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching our students sorted and culled into groups where their “data” is determining how many beds prisons will need. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of our students.

I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry youth in our communities, I have told them that dropping out would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes through meaningful authentic learning and assessment.
I knew that I could never again raise my voice for my students without having first spoken clearly to those who set education policies that position students for failure. For the sake of these students, I cannot be silent.

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore high stakes testing. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Education reforms.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of our children. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our public schools.
And as I ponder the madness of high stakes testing and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to my students. I speak now simply of the children who have been living under the curse of high stakes testing for a decade now. I think of them, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries and stop the toxic high stakes testing.
Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a teacher. I speak for children who are constantly labeled and sorted, whose dreams are being destroyed.
Stop the Toxic High Stakes Testing now.

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