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Objectifying Measures

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

Amanda Walker Johnson
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Objectifying Measures
    Book Description:

    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 Measuresexplores 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."

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-907-1
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (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 constant public surveillance, the constant dissemination of statistics, and the “continual alteration” and “doublethink,” characteristics of the world imagined by George Orwell in1984, are all aspects of the system of high-stakes testing in Texas. Students are constantly being tested, not only by the state, but...

  5. 2 Contextualizing Education within the Racial Politics of Texas
    (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 theBrowndecision itself, and the fact that “the very critics and organizations that applauded Brown and worked to implement it” are opposing the law—what he contends is leaving “minority children behind”—could only be explained by these organizations’ commitment to “special interests” (Archibald 2004). For Paige, “racism cannot end as long as there is an...

  6. 3 Statistical Objectification, Governmentality, and Race in High-Stakes Testing
    (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 reading (the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. Under Texas law (TEC § 28.0211), students in the third, fifth, and eighth grades who fail testing requirements may still pass to the following grade if a committee composed...

  7. 4 Commodification, Privatization, and Political Economy of Statistical Discourse
    (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 literature as apathetic, revealed that they had driven from Houston to speak about the commodification of their children. Testimony revealed that the parents created Children Equal Profit as a parody of CEP, Community Education Partners, in Houston, a for-profit company that provides alternative schooling or...

  8. 5 Statistical Objectification, Truth, and Hegemony
    (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 reproducing the hegemony of the testing system. According to Desrosières (1998), “statistical objectification” is a way of stabilizing objects and providing forms for describing the relationship between them: “makingthings that hold, either because they are predictable or because, if unpredictable, their unpredictability can be mastered to some extent, thanks to the calculation of probability” (9). Embedded in the politics of networks and...

  9. 6 Between Women and the State of Texas: Representation and the Politics of Experience
    (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 resulting statistics objectifies and dehumanizes students, as well as alienates teachers and school administrators. This focus on countering statistical discourse with narratives of experience signaled a shift from the method of countering the hegemonic statistical discourses of testing with statistical subjectivity or statistical counterdiscourse that had been so central in the...

  10. 7 Conclusion
    (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 against being transformed into a statistic, as one student put it, as “a name and a score.” I found that Texas students, their parents, their teachers, and others were engaging in resistance against what Foucault (1983)...

  11. Chronology: Timeline of Testing in Texas, 1970–2003
    (pp. 159-162)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 163-180)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-208)
  14. Index
    (pp. 209-212)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)