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NEA president: Current testing system “will crumble”

This large banner on a parking garage greeted delegates to the NEA's annual convention in Denver.
This large banner on a parking garage greeted delegates to the NEA's annual convention in Denver.
Chalkbeat Colorado

Two National Education Association leaders Wednesday called for a massive reduction in the amount of student testing and predicted accountability systems based on such assessments “will crumble.”

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the 3 million-member NEA, told a handful of reporters (and several dozen cheering members), “This entire accountability system that’s based on tests will crumble. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

He appeared with Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, an NEA affiliate. Dallman, citing a CEA teacher survey that concluded 30 percent of the school year is consumed by testing, said, “Let’s cap it at 5 percent.”

The two leaders appeared a day before the NEA’s representative assembly convenes for four days of elections, voting on resolutions and deciding on union initiatives for the upcoming year.

The national meeting at the Colorado Convention Center is the first in Colorado since 1962.

Testing, which has come under increasing criticism from state and national teacher groups in the last year, is expected to be a major topic of discussion. One agenda item proposes creation of a “NEA Campaign Against Toxic Testing” that “will conduct a comprehensive campaign to end the high stakes use of standardized tests, to sharply reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by tests, and to implement more effective forms of assessment and accountability.” (Read about full proposal here.)

Dennis Van Roekel (left) and Kerrie Dallman.
Dennis Van Roekel (left) and Kerrie Dallman.

Van Roekel and Dallman pounded on those themes Wednesday, with Van Roekel saying testing “has failed the children of America” and “I don’t need five more years of the same results to show me which students aren’t getting what they need.”

Dallman criticized “the corporate-driven testing culture” and said it’s “taking the joy” out of schools.

“We are here to tell Colorado we are all more than a score. … We are not anti-testing. Teachers invented testing. But too much of a good thing is a bad thing,” she said.

Asked about a new state task force that will study the issue, Dallman said she hopes the group will “separate student testing from high-stakes decisions” about accountability. “I hope that recommendations come out of that task force to put a cap on testing.” (Get more details on the task force here.)

Criticism of the Common Core State Standards and testing also is on the rise among conservative groups. Asked if the liberal NEA might make common cause with such groups on testing, both Van Roekel and Dallman avoided answering.

Nearly 9,000 people started gathering last week for the NEA’s annual meeting, attending a variety of events including special-interest caucuses, committee business meetings and state delegation sessions, plus service and educational events.

The business portion of the meeting kicks off in earnest Thursday when the NEA’s representative assembly digs into business items, constitutional amendments and – starting Friday – election of officers. Van Roekel is ending his term, so a new president will be elected. Those sessions run through Sunday. (See agenda here.)

The resolutions could take some time. The table of contents for proposed resolutions runs to more than nine pages by itself, not counting proposal texts. (See the full set here.)

The teachers unions’ annual summer conventions come at a time of increasing pressure on the groups. (The smaller American Federation of Teachers holds its convention in Los Angeles starting July 11.)

EdWeek on Wednesday posted a set of graphics showing the changing membership, finances and other stats about the two groups. A recent article on Politico concluded, “As the two big national teachers unions prepare for their conventions this summer, they are struggling to navigate one of the most tumultuous moments in their history.”

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