Over the past few months, the District and various news outlets have been touting the success and improvement of schools by looking at standardized test scores. They believe, as many have since 2001 saw the passage of No Child Left Behind, that “standardized” tests, could measure student achievement, potential, and school/teacher effectiveness. Thankfully, many within education have called such claims, “false”, as they should have.

What many don’t know is the inherent bias in “standardized” testing. “Standardized” tests are not standard at all. The precursor to today’s standardized tests was “Intelligence Quotient” (IQ) tests that harken back to the eugenics movement where white doctors sought to prove the mental inferiority of black people and the mental superiority of white people. Such standardized exams like IQ test of decades back, and today’s PARCC exams taken in today’s schools share two striking commonalities: they are still racist and indicate affluence within a schools geography.

The exams are racist in that they are written and designed by nearly one exclusive demographic, wealthy educated whites, for one demographic – affluent, educated whites. If language is understood to be nothing more than code, where if you understand that specific code, you understand what is being communicated, we can understand the linguistic coding of today’s “standardized” tests, does not correlate to everybody – thus advantaging some students over others. Affluent white students have a built-in advantage simply because the language, or code, of the exam, caters to them specifically, much more than it does to any other child. Which also explains, why schools that are wealthier and whiter do better on these exams – not because their students are any smarter, or their teachers are any better, but simply because the tests use to measure such things, is geared specifically toward their advantage and no one else’s.

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Next, the exams do not measure what the public has, by and large, falsely accepted what the tests indicate. Standardized tests do not indicate whether your child is “college-ready” or not; as evidenced by the fact that a growing list of colleges are becoming "test-optional". The tests do not show whether your child is in a “failing school”, or that your child has “teachers that don’t care”. These tests ONLY tell us, where, geographically, your child attends school, and who he goes to school with. Reliably, if a school gets high marks on standardized tests, we know through decades of research at this point, that school is overwhelmingly likely to be situated in an affluent white suburb. And if a school scores poorly, we know, reliably that the school is placed in an area of low-income and high poverty of consisting of any ethnicity.

Those assertions, that “standardized” tests are racist, and measure income rather than anything else makes it strange that during the month of July, some of Camden’s schools spent a lot of energy and ink touting their scores on “standardized” tests which don’t measure anything they claim to measure.

The concept of “standardized” tests measuring student “proficiency," school and teacher quality is so widespread, despite being completely wrong. “Standardized” tests do not indicate a good school within this city, what it does indicate is what is stressed within a school building. If a school spends an inordinate amount of time in test prep mode, studying tested subjects for the tests (English, math, science), think about all the elements of schooling and education children are missing out on. Fewer electives like music, art, shop classes. Less exploratory class conversation. Less learning out of simple, natural curiosity as everything in schools today needs to be measured and quantified. That’s not education.

If some schools in this city want to tout their schools are better because they spend more time on test prep than our public schools, this educator says: go right ahead. Our educators, like educators all across the country, know the fallacy and embedded unfairness in "standardized" testing. We don't care to give any greater legitimacy that such testing indicates anything more than we what we already know, and what has already been proven through decades of research. But because our educators care more about our children as developing young human beings than any (patently unfair) test score, we understand their fundamental human need to communicate, be curious, to move, to talk, and yes, to play!

Recess, like many other non-tested elements of the school day, has been one of the first things cut out or drastically reduced from city schools in exchange for more test-prep to avoid sanctioning for underperformance. That strategy has been a disaster. In response last year, Governor Murphy passed a law mandating twenty-minutes of recess for all NJ’s elementary students. That was a solid start, but we want more for our kids. Our kids are playing less than ever before and are carrying that natural excess energy into the classroom where their playful exuberance can get them into trouble in violating classroom behavior norms. Our solution as Camden Public School educators: let’s use widely-available research to help us find solutions to give our kids what they need academically, and developmentally – and what we’ve come up with is – more recess!

More downtime for play, greater time for kids to run around as kids, carefree and having fun has been shown to improve student health, student self-esteem, classroom behaviors, and yes, academic performance. Simply giving kids more time to play makes for happier and smarter kids, happier teachers and staff, and yes, a better school. With that in mind, Camden’s public-school educators have been lobbying District Leadership for extending recess for all pre-K to eighth grade students because we want what’s best for our students, your child. We want them to enjoy coming to school. We want them to have fun while in school. We want them to see school as a place, not of endless, and needless testing, but a place where they can be creative, ask questions, and for an extended block of time, simply be joyful, playful children.   

Keith E. Benson, Ed. D is the president of the Camden Education Association. The organization advocates for quality working conditions, economic benefits, political involvement, and professional growth for its membership in order to promote the best education for Camden City students, according to its website.

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