In my initial research for this project, I spent most of my time looking for grassroots organizations that focused only on reforming high-stakes standardized testing. Eventually I realized that, while those organizations do exist, there are many more organizations who are organizing around reforming urban education more generally and include standardized test reform in their platforms. Initially, this was surprising to me because it seemed like having such broad platforms would be overwhelming for actually making real changes. After thinking further, I get why it is so difficult to parse standardized tests away from the many other issues that effect urban schools. All of these oppressive issues and practices exist as a part of a larger neoliberal racial agenda that works (very successfully most of the time) to maintain white supremacy. Isolating issues from this larger context could be productive in dealing with these specific issues on a short term scale fails to acknowledge this greater oppressive system at work–doing that just gives the oppressive system more power.
Can we separate testing from the broader neoliberal racial project?
I’m struggling with how to think about organizations that I studied that very specifically criticize and work against high-stakes standardized testing without spending much time or energy talking or thinking about white supremacy and the neoliberal racial agendas at work behind high-stakes standardized testing. I am not sure it is possible to have a real conversation about testing without thinking about race. White supremacist agendas have been pushing standardized testing forward form its origins and continue to stand strong behind it today.
Empowering Communities through Education
Many of the organization I looked at spent a lot of energy providing parents with resources and information about opting out of standardized testing. This practice reminds me a lot of Ella Baker and her ideas about group centered leadership.These organizations can empower parents and teachers about their rights, then allow them the chance to make decisions as a community about what will be best for them. We talked a lot about this idea of empowering communities through education in class and it was exciting to see this happening consistently with the organizations I researched.
One thing that I did not see in my research was any substantive information about including students in the grassroots work to reform assessment in schools. Students are the ones who are directly impacted by standardized tests, but, even in the organizing work around testing reform, they are still disempowered most of the time. Can these organizations be truly grassroots if they are not meaningfully including those who are affected most directly by this issue?
Remaining Thoughts and Questions
I wonder how we can organize effectively for better forms of school assessment while acknowledging the larger neoliberal racial project at play here. How much is too much for one organization to take on? Can one organization take on many interconnected issues effectively? Or do grassroots organization need a more specific focus to make real change? Maybe an organization work around more than one issue effectively as long as all of the issues are ones a that effect a definable community.
Standardized testing is a key issue because it is a major factor in decisions regarding school funding. It does fit into the broader neoliberal racial agenda at play in most of our school policy today but stands out in how it effects funding levels for many schools across the country. Public schools, especially urban public schools, across the country are underfunded. Many of the issues that urban schools face could be dealt with if the schools were given the resources to do so. A struggling school might have lower test scores, then receive less funding, then have to lay off nurses and guidance counselors, and then maybe cut arts classes to allow for more test prep. This cycle will repeat until we find better ways to assess student learning and provide more resources to struggling schools rather than less.