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AFT REPORTS: AFT delegates unanimously pass watered-down resolution protesting abuses of high-stakes testing

After years of growing internal protests from teachers, parents, students and scholars against the abuses of high-stakes testing across the USA — and almost immediately following a stirring speech during which historian Diane Ravitch blasted the abuses of testing in America's public schools — the 3,000 delegates to the convention of the American Federation of Teachers being held in Detroit this weekend unanimously passed a major resolution critical of testing. The resolution that passed was the result of compromises with other resolutions, including two submitted by the Chicago Teachers Union.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union delegation wore their "Chicago Red" shirts and were seen cheering wildly during the address by Diane Ravitch. Above, dozens of Chicago delegates can be seen listening to Diane Ravitch while Drunita Steward shows her enthusiasm and her colors. Substance photograph by George N. Schmidt.The resolution that ultimately passed the convention on July 28, 2012, resulted from committee work on several resolutions that had been submitted to the convention, including two by the Chicago Teachers Union. A separate resolution promoting a complete audit and full transparency on the costs of testing did not come to the floor because of a procedural technicality, despite the fact that it had been voted up in committee. Proposals by Chicago and elsewhere for more complete test transparency were eradicated from the final policy statement that came before the delegates.

"The testing resolution that passes calls for an end to America's fixation on high-stakes testing and declares that America's fixation on high-stakes testing is denying children the rich, meaningful education they deserve," the AFT press release reported. "The resolution passed by the delegates demands that tests inform, not impede, teaching and learning." AFT President Randi Weingarten was quoted in the press calling the resolution historic.

After years of frustration, traditional critics of the abuses of testing in the USA. Those critics have included many reporters and analysts at Substance, including this reporter, who was fired and blacklisted by Chicago Public Schools under Paul Vallas in 1999-2000 for publishing in Substance six of the most ridiculous "standardized" tests just used in Chicago, the so-called "CASE" tests (Chicago Academic Standards Exams. Disinformation, confusion, propaganda, and repression characterized the decade that followed, as secret (and often privately produced corporate) tests became the club used against teachers and real public schools, while issues like poverty and resources were drummed out of the public debate for a time.

But in 2012, things became radically different. Partly prompted by two resolutions submitted to the convention by the Chicago Teachers Union (and developed in the union's Testing Committee, which was initiated by the new union leadership under Karen Lewis in August 2010), the AFT was finally admitting what classroom teachers, parents, and researchers had noted for more than a decade.

The AFT press release continued: "It's time to restore balance in our schools so that teaching and learning, not testing, are at the center of education," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Test-driven education policies continue to force educators to sacrifice time needed to help students learn to critically analyze content and, instead, focus on teaching to the test. And students lose out on rich learning experiences when districts cut art, music, sports, social studies, science and other subjects to focus strictly on math and reading tests."

At the time of the debate on the resolution, Randi Weingarten reminded the delegates that AFT members are not alone in raising concerns about the current fixation on testing. In the past month, she said, nearly 23,000 parents, teachers and students from across the country had signed on to AFT's petition demanding an end to high-stakes testing. Both Weingarten and Diane Ravitch told the delegates the Texas school districts had also been voting against the continued use of the tests. Weingarten and the AFT have stubbornly ignored many of the centers of resistance to high-stakes testing, including Chicago and Substance. The CTU Testing Committee is chaired by Substance Editor Sharon Schmidt.

AFT's resolution includes the following language:

"...We believe in assessments that support teaching and learning, and align with curriculum rather than narrow it; that are developed through collaborative efforts, not picked off a shelf; that are focused on measuring growth and continuous development instead of arbitrary targets unconnected to how students learn; that rely on diverse, authentic, and multiple indicators of student performance rather than filling in bubbles; and that provide information leading to appropriate interventions that help students, teachers and schools improve, not sanctions that undermine them. ..."

THE COMPLETE TEXT OF THE RESOLUTION FOLLOWS BELOW:

EDUCATIONAL ISSUES COMMITTEE. 2. TESTING SHOULD INFORM, NOT IMPEDE, TEACHING AND LEARNING

All children deserve a rich, meaningful public education that prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities, and challenges that await them as they become contributing members of a democratic society. Growing our nation's future citizens and workers is a serious undertaking that calls for a thoughtful focus on teaching and learning. Since the implementation of the No Child Left BehindAct, the growing fixation on high-stakes testing has undermined that focus, putting at grave risk our students' learning and their ability to meet the demands of the 21st -century economy and fulfill their personal goals.

The current generation of low-level, high-stakes tests — and their extreme misuse as a result of ideologically and politically driven education policy — has not improved our schools. Indeed, several studies have shown the exact opposite: Test-based rewards and sanctions for schools have slowed our progress in narrowing the achievement gap and have diverted attention away from many other important educational goals.

Appropriate assessments are an integral part of a high-quality public education. By contrast, the current test-and-punish accountability model has seriously damaged public education. We have lost vital parts of the curriculum because they are not subject to testing. Student learning time has been sacrificed in favor of testing and test preparation. Teachers have been led to focus their attention on the students closest to passing the tests, at the expense of developing every student's full potential. All of this has stifled teachers' ability to develop all students' capacity to think deeply , critically and creatively, and has driven many talented teachers from classrooms that desperately need them. This loss has been especially pronounced in the schools and classrooms serving America's neediest children and students with disabilities, adding further insult to the injury of poverty and other social challenges.

In short, the inappropriate and punitive use of assessments, which too often are of low quality to begin with, has eclipsed teaching in too many schools. It is time to restore a proper balance to public education and to ensure that assessments — as important as they are — inform and not impede teaching and learning.

• We believe in assessments that support teaching and learning, and align with curriculum rather than narrow it; that are developed through collaborative efforts, not picked off a shelf; that are focused on measuring growth and continuous development instead of arbitrary targets unconnected to how students learn; that rely on diverse, authentic and multiple indicators of student performance rather than filling in bubbles; and that provide information leading to appropriate interventions that help students, teachers and schools to improve, not sanctions that undermine them.

• Further, we believe that assessments designed to support teaching and learning must contribute to school and classroom environments that nurture growth, collaboration, curiosity and invention — essential elements of a 21st-century education that have too often been sacrificed in favor of test prep and testing. Specifically, we call on the consortia currently developing assessments aligned to the Common Core Standards to do their part in solving this by including the crucial voices of teachers in the development of these assessments. We know that collaboration with educators is necessary to ensure that high-quality instruction and content are given their proper emphasis.

• America's public school accountability system must be reexamined and rebuilt. By every credible measure, the testing fixation rooted in the No Child Left Behind Act has failed our students. We commit to working with all who share our commitment to restoring the balance to public education by prioritizing high-quality instruction informed by appropriate and useful assessments. Anything less would be unworthy of our children and of the world class public schools they deserve.

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