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Objectifying Measures: The Dominance of High-Stakes Testing and the Politics of Schooling

Amanda Walker Johnson

Publication Year: 2009

In the past twenty years, the number of educational tests with high-stakes consequences—such as promotion to the next grade level or graduating from high school—has increased. At the same time, the difficulty of the tests has also increased. In Texas, a Latina state legislator introduced and lobbied for a bill that would take such factors as teacher recommendations, portfolios of student work, and grades into account for the students—usually students of color—who failed such tests. The bill was defeated.

Using several types of ethnographic study (personal interviews, observations of the Legislature in action, news broadcasts, public documents from the Legislature and Texas Education Agency), Amanda Walker Johnson observed the struggle for the bill’s passage. Through recounting this experience, Objectifying Measures explores the relationship between the cultural production of scientific knowledge (of statistics in particular) and the often intuitive resistance to objectification of those adversely affected by the power of policies underwritten as "scientific."

Published by: Temple University Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

This work was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as resources from the University of Texas at Austin and from the University of Massachusetts...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-22

In 1984, the Texas Legislature began constructing an educational system that would place higher and higher stakes on students’ performance on standardized tests. More than twenty years later, students must pass state- mandated tests not only to graduate from high school, but also to move on to the fourth, sixth, and ninth grades. Ironically, the...

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2. Contextualizing Education within the Racial Politics of Texas

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pp. 23-41

In a speech before the American Enterprise Institute in January of 2004, Education Secretary Rod Paige compared opponents of the president’s No Child Left Behind Act to 1950s- era segregationists. According to Paige, the No Child Left Behind Act represents a political equivalent to the Brown decision itself, and the fact that “the very critics and...

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3. Statistical Objectification, Governmentality, and Race in High-Stakes Testing

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pp. 42-62

On January 25, 2003, just before the start of the 78th session of the Texas legislature, a coalition formed by teachers, professors, and parents called Texans for Quality Assessment organized a rally in support of multiple- criteria bills. March 2003 would mark the first time that third graders were required to pass state assessments in...

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4. Commodification, Privatization, and Political Economy of Statistical Discourse

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pp. 63-96

At a House Public Education Committee meeting on February 27, 2001, I arrived to find that the meeting was standing room only. A large group of mostly Black parents crowded the room wearing green T-shirts reading “Children Equal Profit.” When their time came to speak hours later, these parents, who have been characterized by education...

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5. Statistical Objectification, Truth, and Hegemony

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pp. 97-119

While statistical discourse on testing allows for two types of objectification, in terms of treating students as manipulable objects and in terms of commodifying their knowledge and social information, a third mode of statistical objectification operates in...

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6. Between Women and the State of Texas :Representation and the Politics of Experience

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pp. 120-139

Collecting narratives of students’ experiences with testing lay at the heart of Representative Dora Olivo’s political strategy to garner support for the multiple- criteria bills. The “children’s stories” aimed not only to deconstruct statistical testing discourses, but also to document the extent to which continual testing and fetishization of the...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 140-158

In this book, I have argued that statistical objectification works to maintain the hegemony of the high- stakes testing system in Texas. In one sense, statistics objectify Texas students, teachers, and the public, inscribing them as objects of governance. I came to this conclusion by using Abu-Lughod’s (1990) suggestion of viewing resistance as diagnostic of power, seeing the forms of resistance against testing as resistance...

Chronology: Timeline of Testing in Texas, 1970– 2003

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pp. 159-161

Notes

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pp. 163-180

Bibliography

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pp. 181-208

Index

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pp. 209-212


E-ISBN-13: 9781592139071

Publication Year: 2009