By Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff
The national conversation about standardized testing came to West Bend earlier this month.
On Feb. 4, Dr. Tim Slekar led a community forum about the current state of public education, with a focus on the influx of performance assessments. Slekar is the current Dean of the College of Education at Edgewood College in Madison. The forum was sponsored by the Democratic Party of Washington County and held at its office at 132 North Main St.
Slekar has taught at colleges in Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. He also is one of the founders of United Opt Out National, a “movement to end corporate education reform,” according to the organization’s website.
“What’s going on with accountability?,” Slekar asked. Slekar referenced the current “crusade of accountability” that he said is occurring in education. The desire for accountability is what Slekar says is the driving force behind the current push for increased testing to measure success.
Slekar said that the desire for accountability has led to blame being placed on teachers for the problems in education. Slekar used Milwaukee as an example. He referenced the idea that the kids in Milwaukee Public Schools are “failing horribly” so the conclusion many make is that it is the fault of “lazy teachers and bad schools.”
“‘Accountability’ allows people to say they are doing something while they aren’t doing it,” Slekar said.
Slekar believes that this desire for accountability is the driving force behind the influx of tests to measure performance, such as the Gains tests in West Bend.
“‘Accountability’ allows people to say they are doing something while they aren’t doing it.”
– Dr. Tim Slekar
Slekar referred to the public belief that American students do not score as well on tests as students from the rest of the world. The solution that the federal government came up with during the Reagan administration was more tests, he said.
“Think about that, a kid can’t read, so let’s give him more reading tests,” Slekar said.
Slekar held up an object in the room repeatedly as what he said should be given to kindergarteners to help them learn: a toy, not a test. “This is what a kindergartener needs to learn how to read. They don’t learn their letters by taking tests,” Slekar said.
“Study after study… if you give kids access to books, lots of books, and time to look at books every day with no reading instruction, they do the best (on tests),” Slekar said.
Slekar also said that teacher salary being tied to student performance on the one hand makes sense. People should make money if they work really hard. “Okay, but how are you measuring hard work?,” Slekar asked.
According to Slekar, the testing used to “measure hard work” is creating a toxic environment for not only students but teachers as well.
Referencing Campbell’s Law, Slekar said, “Essentially it says look, if you’re going to use high stakes tests to change the kind of societal structure (low performance in schools), you will fail, you have to fail because it causes a toxic environment.”
Campbell’s Law “explains why high-stakes testing promotes cheating, narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, and other negative behaviors,” according to Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University.
“We need to get more of those facts (statistics) out,” Slekar said in order to educate the public and increase opposition to overtesting.
“It’s community organizing, and making sure that people understand the issues that are really at stake, and to separate the narrative myths from what are facts and what is really happening, and start telling the stories of accountability, because when you tell the stories of accountability, people are horrified,” Slekar said.
(Image: Dr. Tim Slekar uses a toy to make a point about the best way to teach children to read. Photo by Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff.)