Rise above the Mark Reactions

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Rise above the Mark is a film sponsored by the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation and created to counter some of the testing and accountability frenzy which has taken over much of education over the past decade.  (Information about the documentary can be found at https://riseabovethemark.com/.)

The film was released a year ago and is slowly gathering some interest as illustrated by these two articles—one from the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vicki-cobb/education-reform-and-evid_b_5947980.html) and one from the IndyStar (http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2014/02/28/rise-above-the-mark-film-sparks-education-debate-/5918459/).

It is interesting that the term “school reform” has taken on such extreme connotations that the debate featured in the IndyStar article puts the issue in terms of those in favor of school reform versus those against.  I had always thought that anyone who felt that public education could benefit from changes was considered a “reformer,” but apparently, those in favor of more standardized testing, No Child Left Behind, the Common Core, and a more business-oriented approach to our schools have completely taken over the “reformer” label.  Rise above the Mark makes the case that we are spending way too much time, effort, and money teaching to, preparing for, taking, grading, and fretting over standardized tests.  Hey, testers, leave those schools alone!

I support this movement wholeheartedly.  To try to condense what a student knows into a timed, multiple-choice test seems ludicrous to the extreme.  Yes, the results do allow us to cast aspersions on schools that don’t score well, but what does that achieve besides forcing low-scoring schools to waste more class time preparing for the tests?  Basically, standardized testing has become an end unto itself, rather than one of MANY different measures of how much a student has learned.  And they have become a huge negative in that they don’t help schools to improve, instead simply ranking them so that people who know little about teaching or education can sit in judgment on them.  Plus, schools are then pressured into diverting their limited resources into experts and materials that claim to have the magic formula for instant “success” (defined solely in terms of test scores).

That a school system in Indiana would find the pressure of standardized testing so negative that it would make a movie asking for relief tells you the problems that our over-reliance on testing have created.  It is certainly refreshing to see that some educational supporters are taking steps to alleviate some of that stress.  I haven’t seen Rise above the Mark, yet, but I certainly plan to and applaud its attempt to shift our focus back to students and learning rather than multiple-guess boondoggles for the testing companies.

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