High Stakes Agenda

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What’s not getting said loudly enough about the massive number of third-grade Oklahoma students who supposedly won’t get to advance to the fourth grade is that it’s part of a right-wing attack on public education.

For right-wingers, such as Oklahoma Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, it’s another “mission accomplished” moment.

Almost 30 percent of third graders in the Oklahoma City School District scored unsatisfactory on a reading test that could put them in jeopardy of not advancing to the fourth grade. That’s 3,608 students. In the Tulsa School District, the unsatisfactory rate was nearly 33 percent. The statewide result overall was 16 percent or around 8,000 students total.

Not all the students will be retained because of various qualifications and exceptions, but it’s a logistics nightmare nonetheless.

This is the result of what we now call “high-stakes” testing, which the right wants us to accept is for the students’ benefit, which it isn’t. It’s part of a coordinated effort to attack public schools and expand the voucher and charter schools movement. It’s racist as its core because it’s intentionally designed to hurt inner-city schools, which have the most minority students. Many of these students live in poverty.

According to well-known educator and author Diane Ravitch, “. . . today's standardized tests are useless. All are normed on a bell curve, and the results reflect the student's family income with uncanny accuracy."

In Oklahoma, the right-wing attack on public schools includes massive cuts in per pupil funding. In fact, Oklahoma is among the top states in the nation in the percentage decrease—a whopping 20.3 percent—in per pupil funding from 2008 to 2013. This is a deliberate conservative strategy: Starve schools of funding, employ high-stakes testing designed to fail students and declare the public education system a miserable failure.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more local educators speaking out directly against the conservative onslaught in these larger terms. There’s no way around it. This IS an extremist conservative anti-public education movement. It must be met with political action from the left, not appeasement or some fake centrist position in order to avoid conflict.

Here’s something to remember: Supporters of high-stakes testing will always act as if they are morally right in their actions because it’s “for the students.” I doubt many of them really care about students in reality. What they want is a transfer of taxpayer money to private schools through vouchers and more charter or boutique schools for privileged students. They want to destroy teacher unions.

What about the impoverished, minority student, perhaps hungry on a daily basis, with health problems, living in an insecure environment? It’s simply shameful that the right-wing wants to humiliate this student and wreak havoc in the lives of people trying to help her. What can you get for trying to help an impoverished student learn to read? Fired.

According to the site FairTest:

Many students do not have a fair opportunity to learn the material on the test because they attend poorly-funded schools with large class sizes, too many teachers without subject area certification, and inadequate books, libraries, laboratories, computers and other facilities. These students are usually from low-income families, and many also suffer problems with housing, nutrition or health care. High-stakes tests punish them for things they cannot control.

The Oklahoma government is now dominated by extremely conservative politicians, such as Barresi and Gov. Mary Fallin. It’s long past time voters wake up here and note their agendas are not rooted in Oklahoma and its unique needs, both in its major cities and rural areas, but in a national movement to drastically hurt public education and other right-wing causes. They don’t want to improve schools here more than they want to show how schools are failing.