Durham Public Schools Board of Education member Dr. Kirsten Kainz offered strong words at the board's meeting last night to critics of standardized tests and the Reading Street curriculum.
Kainz made a lengthy statement before offering an update on elementary instruction initiatives. She also directly responded to parents who spoke earlier about their concerns over Durham's emphasis on testing and the Reading Street curriculum. These parents brought up the school district's ties with the Broad Foundation, a controversial group that trains and awards large amounts of money to reform school districts - especially in urban areas. (I'll do a separate post on Broad tomorrow.)
Click 'Read More' for her full statement:
"I want to talk about our culture of testing. The culture of testing is not defined by Durham Public Schools. And I can think of a time in my life that wasn’t too long ago where I had very little value for standardized testing. And perhaps some fundamental disagreements with standardized testing and some informed, fundamental disagreements with standardized testing borrowing from some authors we might have heard referenced tonight.
There was a certain point where I knew there was hypocrisy to my rejection of standardized testing. That hypocrisy I recognized in myself I often hear when listening to the critics of standardized testing, and I want to share that.
The hypocrisy that I identified in myself was that my living wage, my ability to go on vacation, the neighborhood where I can purchase a home, the safety and health of my children are all benefits of my social status that have been conferred to me from two sources: one, the family I was born into and two, my performance on standardized tests.
When I applied to college, I didn’t say: 'You know what? I participated in an enriched curriculum, and I am a unique and special individual. I am too dignified to show you my SAT score on this application. You will have to accept me on my statement of personal worth.'
When I applied to graduate school, I didn’t have the guts to say: 'You know what University of North Carolina, I’d like you to take me because I'm a deep thinker. I'm a rich participant in my community. I have an expansive vocabulary. No, I showed them my GRE scores.
And my social network, people who are lawyers showed their LSAT scores. The people who went to Fuqua showed their GMAT scores. My physician showed his MCAT scores. That’s the way it works in this society. It doesn’t have to work that way forever, but it’s the way it works now.
To sit in my position of relative social comfort and fail to work for a system that can not only enrich the educational experience of its students but also improve the test scores of its students is to reap the benefits of my society while simultaneously denying them to other people.
And its not just any other people. It’s not the people who live next door to me. I’ll be honest, in Durham, it’s the people who live on the East side of Durham. It’s the people who live on the East side of Durham primarily, and I think we’re done with that.
I want to talk about standardized testing as both a stepping stone and a stumbling block. Stumbling block is pretty clear and well communicated in our society. The stepping stone is not so clear. When we talk about the Aldine School District [in Texas] that recently won the Broad Prize [for Urban Education], and we realize that their SAT scores went down over the past five years. There’s a reason why the SAT scores went down. It’s because people who 20 years ago never woud've had the chance to take the SAT are now taking the SAT in Aldine, Texas. That’s a very important point for us to discuss and for us to be aware of.
The burden our generation has inherited is a stiff one. Thirty years ago, it was easier to sweep people under the rug. Thirty years ago, it was easier for us to push them into special education. It was easier to push them into education tracks where their performance was not being evaluated. I don’t think we've reached the final point in developing a quality education program for all students in the United States. And I don’t think our current testing program is the best it will ever be. I think there are many improvements to be made. But the burden that my generation has inherited is that we can't sweep the children under the rug anymore, and we must do right by them.
We talk about the achievement gap often. We talk about the achievement gap based on standardized tests. That’s how we define the achievement gap, that’s the only reason we know there’s a gap because of the standardized tests. The burden of my generation is to eradicate the achievement gap. The problem is we might not have the tests that will help us to do that. Again, the burden of my generation. But something to think about as we think about testing.
I am much more reluctant in my public life to criticize standard testing because I am daily aware the benefit my society confers on me based on my test scores, my husband’s test scores, my family’s test scores. But [in Durham] we’re going to use those test scores as a marker for awhile."
Kainz closed up by talking about the elementary departments and emphasizing that standardized tests would continue being used.