Testing Zombies

As a defender of public education, I took Tom Woodward’s challenge Scott McLeod’s challenge seriously. I want to fight fire with fire in the war being waged against public education. Tom Scott outlines the seven steps of the strategy being used by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. His blog entry is worth a read despite the depressing conclusion. Go, read…

i didn’t want to believe that public education could be beaten by such a blatantly cynical sound bite campaign. So, I set out to answer step for step using high-stakes testing as the target.

According to Tom Scott, step 1 is to get a snappy slogan. I came up with “Stop the Testing Tragedy.” Maybe not all that snappy but I don’t have the benefit of a focus group.

Step 2 is to create made up statistics to prove my point. Instead, I used real but sketchy statistics. Some 40% of students suffer from the anxiety that has been shown to influence test scores and cause other physical and emotional damage. The slide show outlines the sketchiness: most research happened prior to our current testing craze engendered by No Child Left Behind. And the studies don’t distinguish between classroom and high-stakes testing. Plus, the percentages are all over the board in the studies  cited: “Current estimates of the percentage of students in a classroom affected by test anxiety range from a low of about 1% to a high of over 40% (Cizek & Burg, 2006, p. 29).” So my stat is true but who knows “how” true. What I do know is that I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that kids are stressed out by testing from students, parents and teachers.



Step 3 is to come up with a graphic. I wanted to use the drooling kid from Ferris Beuhler but it was more gross than eye catching so I went for this one instead. She needs a speech bubble but I don’t have a writing crew so for now we just get the scream.


Step 4 involves maps…and there’s where I got distracted. I thought I would make a map of all the states that Tom Scott mentioned who beat Finland. Or states that had reasonable opt out policies. Or maybe all the states where there had been test protests this spring.   That last idea led me to the Rhode Island students who dressed up like zombies to protest state tests.

Testing zombies…now there’s an idea that could catch on. I went looking for copyright friendly images of zombies and what did I discover? The poster for Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain. That took the rest of the evening.

According to Tom Scott, there are three more steps: make report cards, use social media, spend boat loads of money. Educators are busy making real report cards, struggling to provide authentic assessment in a world that prefers letter grades and test scores. They certainly don’t have boat loads of money and what they do have goes to buying classroom essentials from crayons to tissues to books. Not to mention that they are spending their days with second graders instead of marketing consultants and research assistants. 

But social media is accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, school filters and fear mongers often keep educators from engaging with social media in professionally productive ways. Posting student work and classroom success stories could go a long way to telling a very different story about what is happening in public education when teachers are willing to shut the door and skip test prep for a few days.

But now may be the time to dig in and fight with whatever tools we do have. There was some buzz this spring as several educators very publicly left the profession because testing clashed with their principles. There is a ground swell of opposition to testing in the general public even those who do not have children in school. Recently, I was at a meeting of local historical leaders and it didn’t take long for them to lament how testing has led to a narrowing of the history curriculum that forced out any mention of the rich local history in a region that includes Nat Turner’s rebellion. I encouraged them to talk to their legislators and let them know that not everyone thinks testing is the way to figure out if our schools are successful.

Educators must speak up for themselves and those of us who believe in what they do, must also speak up. And, I’d like to believe we can do it not through incorrect, misleading information but by telling true stories of teachers and students and classrooms. And a few zombie posters…

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