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Opinion: Call off the state tests! Standardized testing only enriches the test companies and has no place in a pandemic year

Opinion: Call off the state tests! Standardized testing only enriches the test companies and has no place in a pandemic year

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There’s a delightful old story about Winnie the Pooh and Piglet hunting a woozle.

As some of us elder folks know, having read the classic Pooh stories as children, woozles are rather cunning creatures. They have an affinity to honey and are hard to identify by their tracks. Some of them inhabit the East Pole. And sometimes tracks on the ground may lead to a woozle, but sometimes they don’t. It’s all rather complicated and serious, this business with the woozles (and heffalumps), and you really should read more about it in the books.

“Tracks,” said Piglet. “Paw-marks.” He gave a little squeak of excitement. “Oh, Pooh! Do you think it’s a–a–a woozle?”

“It may be,” said Pooh. “Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. You never can tell with paw-marks.”

The story “In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle” appears in the third chapter of A.A. Milne’s original “Winnie-the-Pooh” novel.

In that story, Pooh finds tracks around a spinney of larch trees and begins to follow them. Piglet runs after Pooh and joins the hunt. The tracks seem to go around the spinney and soon Pooh and Piglet notice that there’s a new set of tracks alongside the first — another woozle, perhaps!

As they brave onwards, they find that a third set of tracks has appeared next to the other two (might be a wizzle), then a fourth (another wizzle). Just imagine: two woozles AND two wizzles! It’s quite an adventure for Pooh and Piglet.

We know how this story ends, of course. Christopher Robin arrives to explain that the two have just been following their own circular tracks all along.

It is difficult to think of a better metaphor for the modern test-based accountability system which has driven American school reform initiatives for the past few decades than “chasing a woozle.”

One might predict that after nearly two decades of effort and billions of dollars spent on more rigorous academic standards and better assessments, our country would have captured the elusive woozles of higher test scores, lowered achievement gaps and elevated college readiness percentages by now.

Nope. No woozles. Like Pooh and Piglet, we have been walking in circles, going nowhere in particular.

We’ve raised an entire generation of students around the notion of test-based accountability, yet have little to show for the billions of dollars sent to testing companies and other corporate interests during this time.

Where is the evidence of higher achievement and a leveling of the gaps between various demographic groups? Where are the waves of students arriving on college campuses more prepared than ever? Where are the businesses proclaiming that today’s graduates are the most skilled and knowledgeable in history? Where is the increase in citizens with great-paying jobs? Where are any tangible, meaningful signs that the test-based accountability system has worked, here in Oklahoma or anywhere in our country?

Our students are going through a school year like no other in history. They are adapting to distance learning, interrupted school schedules, disrupted home routines, loss of social connections and a myriad of new procedures and protocols that are difficult for them to understand. Despite this, they are doing an excellent job.

The last thing our children need to deal with this year is the added anxiety of having to prepare for and take a series of state tests that will benefit no one other than testing companies and entities seeking to disparage Oklahoma’s teachers and schools.

In a year when time is a precious commodity, every single element of the school year should be questioned as to how it helps our students move forward. Annual state testing does not meet this measure. There are more important things for teachers to be doing this spring than conducting test prep with their students and for schools to be spending valuable weeks of instructional time administering these tests.

Therefore, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma teachers and students, I encourage our state leaders to pursue aggressively a waiver of this spring’s state testing from the federal government.

This year, more than any other in recent history, our children need our undivided attention. We owe them something better than spending more time walking aimlessly in the woods, following footprints that lead to nowhere new.

This is no time to be chasing woozles.

Rob Miller is superintendent of Bixby Public Schools.

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Rob Miller is superintendent of Bixby Public Schools.

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