The Assessment Reform Network was formed at FairTest to support and enhance efforts by parents, teachers, students, civil rights groups and others to prevent and end the harmful use of standardized tests in public education, and to promote the use of authentic assessments in the classroom, district and state level.
The goal of the network is to help open doors for disadvantaged children and to improve the quality of education for everyone. The primary strategy of the project is to facilitate the of exchange of ideas, materials, activities and strategies among assessment reformers to enhance their expertise and capacity to successfully organize and affect changes in assessment practice and policy.
As the ARN was forming in 1999, the nation was witnessing a renewed emphasis on standardized testing in K-12 public education along with an unprecedented increase in the use standardized tests to make high-stakes decisions. Years of expertise, research and experience have shown that when standardized tests are misused in education, they can undermine quality teaching and learning, weaken curriculum, reinforce societal inequities, impair student motivation, curtail access to opportunities and unfairly and inaccurately measure and students and schools. Despite these and other well-known pitfalls, districts, states and schools have increasingly used tests in isolation to make critical decisions about students and schools, such as student promotion and graduation, and rewards and sanctions for schools. This practices has been widely opposed by national testing experts and other leading educators as particularly harmful and unfair.
The ARN started as a loose affiliation of individual parents, teachers, civil rights leaders researchers and others citizens concerned with the wide range of issues surrounding standardized testing and test misuse. It has since grown to include newly formed parent-led groups that have sprung up at the grassroots level in many states and cities in response to the growing misuse of tests and the damage inflicted on their children and schools. Several of these groups are forming larger alliances with teacher unions and educational professional organizations, civil rights groups, parent and student organizations and others.
Participants engage in wide variety of activities as part of the ARN. The project hosts an email discussion group where over 300 participants nationwide discuss a range of issues related to education and testing reform. Another email group reserved for local ARN coordinators is devoted specifically to the work of organizing and mobilizing grassroots resistance. The ARN web pages at the FairTest site act as a central hub for the project where participants share a variety of written materials, training resources, research, news and recent events. Participants utilize the site to learn about organizing and communication with the media. The contact information for the ARN state coordinators and their organizations is available on the web; often newcomers find their way to a state group through a visit to the FairTest site. FairTest has co-sponsored a national conference on high-stakes testing and often helps participants to gather at other large meetings. The FairTest and ARN site are heavily utilized by reporters, researchers and the general public on a daily basis.
The diverse perspectives, expertise and experience of ARN participants has enhanced the capacity of the group to engage in assessment reform efforts, which in turn has built increased collective capacity to move a proactive assessment agenda forward. The content of education and testing has been coupled with new understanding - through the daily experiences of grassroots organizers - about the complexities of building sustainable, diverse and large scale social organizations that can successfully educate the public and influence significant policy decisions in an often divisive and hostile political and social context.
While several efforts across the nation have become involved in this critical issue, the ARN looks to increasing media attention, successive retreats in many states from testing policies and programs, and acknowledgment by leading testing proponents of a growing national "backlash" against high-stakes testing. Many of the groups promise to continue working for equity and improvements in public education beyond the demise of harmful testing policies. One step will be to specifically document what has been learned and gained through the project in order to make this information more widely available.
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