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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 9, no. 2 (January 15, 2001).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c January 15, 2001
Testing times : a school case study / Ivor Goodson [and] Martha Foote.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
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1 of 10 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 9 Number 2January 15, 2001ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2001, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES. Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .Testing Times: A School Case Study Ivor Goodson University of Rochester (USA) & CARE University of East Anglia (UK) Martha Foote University of Rochester (USA)Abstract A highly successful, innovative and creative altern ative to traditional education is confronted by the demands of contempor ary standardized accountability. The account here is a chronicle of the resistance of a particular school, the Durant School, to the global changes that would destroy its local ecologya school whose fight agai nst the imposition of state standards and mandated tests has been a fight to preserve its integrity, its mission, and its autonomy. Picture this: a public urban high schoo l conceived in the late 1960s as an alternative to the traditional education and hierar chical structure of most city schools. A
2 of 10school that has not only upheld this unique educati onal and social vision through its 30-year history, but is deemed successful in terms of its high attendance and college acceptance rates, as well as its low dropout and su spension figures. A school whose 200 studentsAfrican-American, White, Latino/a, and Asi an-Americanchoose to enroll there because of this unique vision and high succes s, and whose teachers choose to work there because they know the school affords them the freedom and respect to realize their innovative educational beliefs. A school that is fr equently described by teachers, students, and parents alike as a community, a famil y even, due to its non-hierarchical structures and close, supportive relationships. Moreover, these judgments of success ar e not made only by those involved in this school. The city's mayor recently commented on the school's achievements in a letter to the state education commissioner, noting that the school's success rate in graduating at-risk students is approximately 20 per cent higher than the City School District's average rate. In addition, the school boasts some of the District's highest attendance rates, highest SAT scores, lowest suspen sion rates, and lowest dropout rates. The mayor concluded that this school's non-traditi onal, yet rigorous process for demanding accountability and assessing knowledge se rves its students well. (Note 1) This then is a school that has not only kept its un ique vision alive, it has also passed the tests of a school's success that have been set over its thirty years. Yet, what happens when this school, an oasis of non-traditional practices, is confronted in this current era of educational accou ntability by an entirely different vision of what a successful school should be? A vision emb odied in newly mandated state standards and standardized tests? A vision that, in fact, parallels the over-standardized, over-tested types of schools which the school's ori ginal founders turned their backs on 30 years ago in their search for a successful alter native? One would common-sensically expect that any form of governance, state or local, would not change "a winning team," but in the new forms of governance, educational suc cess does not exempt schools from systematic new forms of interference. In the new regimes of governance in edu cation, control of education is passing from the trusted coalitions of teachers, students a nd community that have been painstakingly developed in schools such as this. In a more general sense, control is passing from internal educational agents and studen t and parental communities towards external forces representing a different range of i nterests. (Note 2) Lobbying efforts by corporations and industrial interests impinge hugel y on the judgments of politicians and state education commissioners. These forces drive e ducational governance in wholly new directions. New patterns of external and symbol ic control typically focus on testing, transparency, and accountability. Whilst understand able in principle, in reality such methods often collide with the delicately construct ed ecology of school life. As such globalization wreaks environmental havoc in the wor ld generally, so, too, can its specific effects in schools grievously damage the local ecol ogy of an educational environment. This account, then, is a chronicle of t he resistance of a particular school, the Durant School, to just those global changes that wo uld destroy its local ecologya school whose fight against the imposition of state standards and mandated tests has been a fight to preserve its integrity, its mission, and its autonomy. In other words, it has been a fight both to survive and to defend a different, many would say more humane, vision of schooling. Before we examine this school more clos ely, it is important to step back a moment and briefly contemplate a key argument for t he standards movement: that the definition and prescription of higher standards wil l improve our failing schools. Though many dispute the notion that state-mandated curricu la imposed in a top-down fashion
3 of 10and policed through the use of high-stakes, standar dized exams will improve schools, we need to ask different questions. What will the stan dards movement do to our successful schools? Why must they comply with decrees and edic ts pertaining to the content of their curricula when their graduates have a proven record of success in both college and the workplace? Why must their students submit to a battery of paper and pencil exams that supposedly demonstrate academic competency whe n this competency is already demonstrated by their post-graduation performances, let alone their classroom achievement? [And, we might add, why should the foc us be only on strictly academic intelligence when more and more business gurusthe very people often influential in the standards movementare stressing the crucial im portance of social and emotional intelligence?] The reply from standards advocates has been that if a school is already successful, then the standards and their accompanyi ng tests should amount to nothing more than a few hours out of a student's life to si t for the requisite state exams that she/he will undoubtedly pass if the school is, inde ed, of high quality. Such a response starkly exposes the narrow and limited perspective of what many standards advocates believe education is all about: a circumscribed set of skills and myriad facts that can be regurgitated onto a paper and pencil exam in a pres surized testing environment. It is this perspective that the non-traditional Durant School has been fighting in recent months. Not surprisingly, since the school was set up delib erately to alleviate problems generated by a previous era of educational thinking of precis ely this kind. Located in a small, industrial city in the northeast section of the US, the Durant School first faced the possibility of new state sta ndardized exams in 1996. It was in April that year that the state's commissioner of ed ucation announced the adoption of a series of five standardized exams in five differen t content areasto measure the attainment of the state's new higher standards by h igh school students. The passage of all five exams would be mandatory for graduation, and n o public high school student would be exempt. Though the exams would be gradually phas ed in so as to give teachers and students time to prepare, the Durant School was acu tely aware of the immediate, and deleterious, impact of these mandates on its progra m. Specifically, in order to prepare its students for these exams, the school would have to begin both providing courses that specifically addressed the content of these new sta te standards and preparing students to take standardized exams. Both these practices are a ntithetical to the school's philosophy that students should have opportunities to learn in -depth in areas of their own interest, and that this learning is best demonstrated through presentations, portfolios, and long-term projects, or in other words, through perf ormance-based assessments. In an attempt to preserve its integrity, an exemption fro m the state mandates was imperative. In the summer of 1997, the Durant Schoo l applied for a variance from the state exams, maintaining that it upheld and even surpasse d the broad state standards. [It is important to note that there are two sets of standa rds at play in this strugglethe broad state learning standards that address the developme nt of cognitive skills, and the narrow content standards for the different subject areas.] The school asked that instead of exams, it be allowed to continue to evaluate the st udents' attainment of the broad learning standards through its own performance-base d assessments, especially as these very same assessments had recently been publicly co mmended by the state as a model for high schools to emulate. To its great shock, th e state denied the request, maintaining that any alternative assessments to the state exams had to be externally developed; individual schools' assessments could no longer be trusted to ensure high standards. This rejection illustrates just how dramatically the edu cational and ideological climate has been transformed in the past decade. Performance-ba sed assessments and local control
4 of 10have been knocked from the vanguard, usurped by sta ndardized tests with their scientific claims of "objective" reliability and validity, del ivered by bureaucrats from "on-high." However, the Durant School did not surrender its pr inciples so easily: the fight had only just begun. Throughout the 1997-1998 school year, t he principal of the Durant School maintained contact and eventually joined forces wit h a group of non-traditional high schools in the state, most of which are located tog ether in another city, nearly 400 miles away. These schools were also fighting the state ex am mandates, maintaining that their performance-based assessments not only upheld their missions and programs, but were also valid measures of the broad state standards. T his union of schools, which now included the Durant School, decided to apply for a group waiver from the exams. However, rather than rushing forward with the reque st, they thought it best to take their time and build as strong a case for their alternati ve assessments as they could. While this group effort was underway, t he Durant School, cautious that the state might turn down the group waiver as well, began to examine other possible strategies to circumvent the testing mandates. Charter schools wa s one idea, and in the fall of 1998, during their biweekly school based planning team me etings, staff, students, and parents discussed together this possibility as a way to pre serve the Durant School's autonomy. Though the idea was appealing to some, there was al so strong philosophical opposition to such a move, especially regarding the siphoning of public school funds for these schools and their use by the religious right. Later when it was discovered that charter school students would still be required to pass the state exams to graduate, the idea became moot. During this same period, there was als o talk about granting GEDs in lieu of state diplomas. Yet, again, there were grave con cerns, especially that such a move would bar future education or job opportunities to Durant School graduates and be publicly perceived as a retreat from quality learni ng. While the development of internal stra tegies for maintaining the school's autonomy and integrity was crucial, the school real ized that these strategies alone were not enough, that a public relations campaign was al so essential in a successful fight against the state standards mandates. Therefore, as the internal strategies were discussed and debated in the weekly staff and biweekly school based planning team meetings, the Durant School began to pursue several avenues of ga ining public support for the school, and consequently, its request for a variance from t he state exams. Heeding the advice of a sympathetic member of the city's board of educati on, the principal and staff enlisted parents, a.k.a. "voters," as lobbyists to advocate for the school. A special meeting was convened in November 1998 for staff to talk with a group of responsive parents about the threat these exams posed to their children's ed ucation. These parents in turn offered to organize and attend meetings with members of the board of education and the schools' superintendent to enlist their support. Also, the s chool's community boarda board consisting of staff, parents, students, and communi ty supporters of the Durant Schooldecided to organize and sponsor a local conf erence, open to the public, on the effects of the state exams on student learning. Meanwhile, the school also turned to t he media, especially the local daily newspaper, to publicize its plight. The principal's guest editorial on the negative effects of the state exams on the Durant School was publish ed in mid-November, followed by an in-depth article on the school a few days later. When the same newspaper then published its own editorial claiming that the schoo l could both maintain its program and prepare its students for the state exams, an Englis h teacher in the school swiftly responded. In his published letter, he chastised th e editorial board for its lack of evidence that the school could do both, indicating that it had not adequately researched
5 of 10the issue. Aside from the daily newspaper, the scho ol also turned to a local radio station for public outreach. Soon the principal, a parent, and a psychology professor from a local university [and a Durant School Community Board mem ber] appeared together on a talk show to discuss the testing mandates and their effe cts on learning. It was also in November 1998 that a ma th teacher suggested during a school based planning team meeting that the school contact state legislators in an effort to gain their support. His reasoning was that even though t he commissioner of education and his board had set the state exam policy, the legislator s were the ones in charge of implementation. Following this suggestion, staff, p arents, students, alumni, and Community Board members began to write letters to l ocal state legislators, asking for support of the variance. The school also began to s olicit the support of business leaders who could, hopefully, influence the state politicia ns and education leaders. The public relations campaign continue d to gain steam through the winter of 1999. The principal devoted several hours each day drumming up support for the variance request, arranging meetings with political business, and state education leaders, and seeking public opportunities to spread the word of the harmful effects of the standards mandates on the school. Two parents in pa rticular consistently worked on these efforts with him; the supportive school board member offered strategic advice; and various staff, students, parents, alumni, and Commu nity Board members also volunteered. Staff and school based planning meetin gs, as well, were filled with regular discussions on the efforts to secure the variance f rom the state tests. The fight had gained a preeminent position in the school's day-to -day operations, and though staff expressed much stress as a result, they were unwill ing to capitulate to the standards mandates. In February the community board-sponso red conference on the state standards and testing was held. Approximately 100 persons hea rd Monty Neill, the executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Tes ting, give an impassioned keynote address, and lively debate among local and state ed ucators ensued throughout the evening. This event, covered by local television, r adio, and newspaper media, was coincidentally followed the next day by a regional hearing on the standards, sponsored by the state education department. Several members of the Durant School community testified, and according to the principal, the stud ents' personal stories of their educational experiences had a profound effect on one member of the commissioner's board, who publicly stated afterwards that she would support a waiver for the school. Buoyed by these small steps, the school pressed on, and more meetings were held with political and educational leaders throughout the spring. Even whe n support was not secured, the principal was pleased that at least the standards a nd testing mandates had been raised publicly as an issue that merited deep critical con sideration, and that the Durant School had put the word out. By June 1999 significant local support for a variance had been attained. The superintendent of the city schools, assured that th e alternative assessments in the group waiver were, in fact, aligned with the broad state learning standards, had quietly signed on. The board of education, in turn, passed a resol ution of support for the waiver, and even the editorial board of the daily newspaper cha nged its position and came out in favor of a variance for alternative schools. A numb er of local legislators had responded to the school's requests for support with letters t o the education commissioner, asking him to grant the school a variance as well. There w as a greater sense of optimism that a variance really was within reach, and that the scho ol's integrity could be preserved. It was also in June that the Durant Sc hool began to lobby the legislative chairs of the joint state education committee, an associat ion that proved especially
6 of 10advantageous in the coming months. The principal ha d always maintained that if the state education department and the education commis sioner did not approve a variance, then special legislation was another possibility. T hus, when the joint legislative education committee announced a June hearing in the state capital to examine the impact of the standards mandates and testing on schools, t he principal welcomed the opportunity to make the case for the waiver and gai n support for the Durant School's plight. After some preliminary strategy meetings in the weeks before the hearing, about a dozen Durant School representativesstudents, staff parents, Community Board members, and alumnitraveled over 200 miles by rent ed van to testify. Several other representatives from the alliance of schools seekin g the group variance testified as well; and by the day's end, the committee chairs expresse d sympathy for the variance request, especially as the students' testimonies to these sc hools' positive effects on their lives had been, in the chairs' opinion, so persuasive. Summer 1999, though slower-paced, did see two significant developments in the fight: the mayor wrote a letter to the education co mmissioner in support of the variance, and a majority of the local legislators signed a pr o-variance petition, also addressed to the commissioner. However, as the new school year c ommenced in September, the cautious optimism in the school began to wane. A ru ling on the group variance, now formally submitted, remained pending, and teachers and students expressed deep feelings of anxiety and frustration as they awaited a decision. The education commissioner, they observed, seemed more intransige nt than ever as he adamantly, and frequently, proclaimed in the media that there woul d be no retreat from the state standardsan ominous sign, they believed, for the v ariance. This apprehension only increased as the missives from the state education department consistently emphasized that the only viable alternative assessments to the state exams would be other externally developed tests. Performance-based assessments, it seemed, were not even considered an option. Despite this pessimism, the Community Board did sponsor another conference at the school on the effects of the standards mandates in an attempt to educate, and galvanize, the public. However, turnout was poor, a nd several in the Durant School community interpreted this low attendance as an ind ication that the standards had already been accepted as a fait accompli. They also despaired any prospect of a statewide opposition movement. Still, a letter writing campai gn, organized by a parent, was launched to intensify the pressure on political and educational leaders, and the school continued to wait anxiously for an official ruling on the variance. It was during this bleak period that a group of Durant School students, disgusted by the fact-filled, rote learning of their newly ma ndated history class, decided to act. As second-year students they had previously experience d the pleasure of the school's learner-centered classes, and they were outraged by the difference in this class, especially as it was instigated by the state standa rds. When the school sent representatives to speak at a regional joint legisl ative education committee hearing, this time only 100 miles away, about 20 students volunta rily attended, either to testify or show support. Again, the committee was deeply impre ssed by the students' spirit and pride in their school, and a legislative aide priva tely predicted that the waiver would be granted. This development, combined with reports th at other students from the alliance of schools had also made a strong impression at the ir regional hearing, helped re-energize the fight. In addition, the staff began to work monthly with a volunteer business consultant on ways to focus their energy i n fighting the mandates and gaining support for the variance. In December 1999 the state's official r esponse to the variance request began to take shape as the Assessment Panel of the State Edu cation Department granted the
7 of 10alliance of schools a hearing in which to present t heir assessments. The alliance, in turn, solicited six nationally-known educational leaders, and friends of the alliance schools, to make the presentation. Not only did the alliance be lieve that these leaders, who also served on the alliance's performance assessment rev iew board, would present a strong and convincing case, they also believed, according to the Durant School principal, that their prestige would lend political weight to the v ariance request. The night before the hearing, the six leaders gathered with several repr esentatives from the alliance schools to discuss strategy and outline the presentation. At t he two-hour hearing the following day, the six argued the case for the variance, answered questions from the committee, and defended the quality of the alliance's system of as sessment. When the hearing concluded, a press conference, arranged by the alliance, was h eld in which the presenters attested to the urgent need for the variance. That same day, the state's Assessment P anel issued its recommendation to the education commissioner: only a partial variance be granted, limited to the schools covered by a previous variance from state exams [th is limitation excluded the Durant School], and good for only one year. When this reco mmendation was made known, the Durant School immediately intensified its campaign. The principal and several parents implored the school community to call and write let ters to the legislative education committee members, urging them to request a full va riance for the school from the commissioner. The community responded with a flurry of activity. The alliance, in turn, scheduled meetings with the education committee cha irs to ask them to lobby the commissioner for the full variance as well. Finally the day of reckoning arrived at the end of January 2000. The commissioner, following mo st of the panel's recommendations, issued a partial variance through the 2000-2001 school year, limited to the alliance schools in the previous variance. H owever, he did approve an extension of the variance to any remaining alliance schools t hat could demonstrate they had met the criteria of the alliance. This extension provis ion kept the Durant School's hopes alive, as they were certain of having already met a ll the criteria. By March, after the school had submitted proper documentation, the comm issioner ruled that the Durant School was also covered under the temporary waiver. Significantly, the daily newspaper reported the story on the same day as it published an indepth feature article on the Durant School in its series on the city schools, an article that had been actively solicited by the principal. As of March 2000, the partial variance is only a partial victory. Keeping in mind that the five exams are being gradually phased in, this year's seniors are exempt from their only required exam, specifically English Lang uage Arts. This year's juniors, however, must take, and pass, the English Language Arts exam to graduate, though they are exempt from the requisite state math exam, the second exam to be phased in. The current sophomores and freshmen have no exemptions they must pass four and five exams, respectively, in English language arts, math world history, American history, and science, as all five mandated exams will be req uired of the Class of 2003. Despite the commissioner's ruling, the fight is not over. The Durant School, both alone and with the alliance, continues to devise st rategy, lobby for supporters, and struggle to attain a full and complete variance. Th e activist spirit in which this school was created is alive and well, and it offers hope, 30 years later. In particular, it offers a model of how a socio-political process of advocacy and campaigning can turn the juggernaut of external forces in ways that benefit the educational endeavor. For, contrary to the position of the standards movement proponent s, educational success, as epitomized by this school, is indeed attainable thr ough the efforts of internal agentscoalitions of teachers, students, and parent s. These are the only agents who can
8 of 10 truly know a particular school, thus possess the in sight to determine what makes it "succeed" in the most profound sense of the word, a nd not as a simplistic reduction to a standardized test score.NotesMayor's letter to State Education Commissioner, Jun e 28, 1999. 1. Goodson, I. (Forthcoming) Social Histories of Educa tional Change Theory in The International Journal of Educational Change 2. This report originates from a research study entitl ed Change Over Time, funded by the Spencer Foundation. Our thanks for their continued support.About the AuthorsIvor GoodsonUniversity of Rochester (USA)CARE, University of East Anglia (UK)Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgIvor Goodson is Co-Director of the Change Over Tim e research project. He is Professor of Education at both the University of Ea st Anglia and the Warner Graduate School at the University of Rochester, USA. He has been Director of two research units, most recently at the University of Western Ontario where he has directed a wide range of research projects on computer education, teachers l ives and careers, case histories of school and curriculum, environmental education and racial ethnocultural minority teaching. Among his books are School Subjects and Curriculum Change The European Dimension and the School The Making of Curriculum: Collected Essays Studying School Subjects Studying Teachers' Lives Biography, Identity and Schooling Studying Teachers' Lives and Subject Knowledge: Readings for the Study of S chool Subjects The Changing Curriculum: Studies in Social Construc tion His books have been translated in Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Germany and Brazil, and are forthcoming in Japan, China and Finland. He is founding editor of the Journal of Education Policy and the editor of book series for Falmer Press, the Ope n University Press and Teachers College Press. He is the author of "The Devil's Bargin: Educational Research and the Teacher," Education Policy Analysis Archives, 1, (3). Martha Foote Research OfficerProject "Change Over Time"Warner Graduate SchoolUniversity of Rochester Email: email@example.com Martha Foote was a classroom teacher for ten years before becoming a PhD student in Teaching and Curriculum at the Warner Graduate Scho ol of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester.
9 of 10 Copyright 2001 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is epaa.asu.edu General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-0211. (602-965-9644). The Commentary Editor is Casey D. C obb: email@example.com .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov firstname.lastname@example.org Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for HigherEducation William McInerney Purdue University Mary McKeown-Moak MGT of America (Austin, TX) Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton email@example.com Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson New York University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers Ann Leavenworth Centerfor Accelerated Learning Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven firstname.lastname@example.org Robert E. Stake University of IllinoisUC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education David D. Williams Brigham Young University
10 of 10 EPAA Spanish Language Editorial BoardAssociate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico email@example.com Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de Guadalajaraadrianacosta@compuserve.com J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Cdizfelix.firstname.lastname@example.org Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho dis1.cide.mx Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicocanalesa@servidor.unam.mx Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Universitycasanova@asu.edu Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona Jose.Contreras@doe.d5.ub.es Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of ChicagoEepstein@luc.edu Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State Universityjosue@asu.edu Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativa-DIE/CINVESTAVrkent@gemtel.com.mx email@example.com Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do Sul-UFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Airesmmollis@filo.uba.ar Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de Mlagaaiperez@uma.es Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Canadadschugurensky@oise.utoronto.ca Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)Fundao Instituto Brasileiro e Geografiae Estatstica firstname.lastname@example.org Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Coruajurjo@udc.es Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los Angelestorres@gseisucla.edu