As promised, this week the focus will be on standardized testing, opting out of these tests, why and how.

This morning I would like to start in Seattle and how the focus on testing has diminished the overall value of education for our children.

According to the article Seattle Schools’ goal: to create arts education for everyone that was posted in the Seattle Times on March 28, 2012:

Despite her popularity with students, Baker — like other art teachers across the city, state and country — fears her job may not exist next year. Amid budget cuts and an all-consuming focus on raising math and reading test scores, the arts have increasingly been pushed to the side despite their demonstrated academic and social benefits.

In Seattle, where a tradition of delegating decisions to individual schools holds sway, students’ access to the arts varies widely — and often depends on parent fundraising.

“If your school has money or if you have a principal who’s a real proponent of the arts, then you get it,” Baker said. “And if you’re not in one of those two groups, then you don’t.”

The article continues:

The list of organizations qualified to receive funding through Seattle’s $232 million Families and Education Levy, released earlier this month, did not include any arts groups — mostly because the nine that applied don’t closely track their statistical effect on academic achievement.

Mayor Mike McGinn has promised to maintain funding to the organization most affected by the move, Arts Corps, but the group’s executive director called the city’s focus on stats demoralizing.

“It felt like a real step backwards,” said Elizabeth Whitford.

The Families and Eduction Levy, due to pressure by particular ed reform groups, does demand that all funding go into subjects with a “measurable outcome” meaning math and English. The “measurable outcome” referring to test score results.

And what that means is that the schools in the poorer communities get squeezed out of funding for the arts mainly because they don’t have active PTA’s who can raise funds for these types of enrichment programs.

Nationally the focus on test scores has narrowed the curriculum and the focus even within the subjects has become microscopic. Not only is the focus on math but on simple memorization of math solutions rather than understanding the concepts underlying the mathematical formulas. There is no time for that.

We now have two levels of learners. Those whose fate is to memorize basic facts and the second set of learners who are learning how to think creatively and critically. The second level of students are for the most part in the private schools or the schools in the wealthier communities. With the re-segregation of our schools into neighborhood schools  in Seattle, the line has been drawn quite clearly.

To follow is a fact sheet was written by Julie Woestehoff who is Executive Director of PURE, and a founding member of Parents Across America.

What’s wrong with standardized tests?

  • They are designed to rank and sort children. Many use a scoring system in which half of all children in the nation always score below average.
  • There is a well-known achievement gap between the test scores of white and Asian students and African-American and Latino students. Rather than help all children achieve, this overemphasis on standardized tests simply labels more minority children and their schools as failures.
  • Standardized tests can be biased. A study by Jay Rosner in 2002 showed that sample questions which were answered correctly by more African-American students were not chosen for use in the tests; this was done so that test results – showing African-Americans scoring lower than whites – would be “consistent” from year to year (more on this research and test bias below).
  • Tests always contain errors. The fact that most of these tests are kept secret from the community makes it likely that even more mistakes happen – we just never find out about them.
  • Overemphasis on standardized tests can lead to a dumbed-down curriculum. These tests are made up mostly of multiple choice and short answer questions which can’t and don’t measure higher-order thinking, creativity, speaking or artistic skills, or many other important areas our children need to learn about. Unfortunately, areas which are not tested are becoming less and less a part of school, especially under the pressure of NCLB.

Test bias

Decades of research have documented the biases in standardized tests, with students of color bearing the brunt of that discrimination. Across age groups, standardized tests discriminate against low-income students, English language learners, and students of color.

Although in recent years test makers have attempted to address concerns about test bias by establishing review committees to “scour” the tests for bias, and by using statistical procedures, significant problems remain in the content of the questions, the cultural assumptions inherent in the “wanted” answers, etc. Here are just a few examples:

Discriminatory item selection: Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, which provides test preparation programs for the college-entrance Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), reported in 2003 that potential SAT questions which are answered correctly more often by black students than white students are rejected by the test makers. This was apparently done to assure that test results (showing African-Americans scoring lower than whites) would be “consistent” from year to year.

Outright racism: A series of questions on the 2006 global history New York State Regents exam asked students to describe how Africa “benefited” from imperialism. Using this 150-year-old quote: “We are endeavoring … to teach the native races to conduct their own affairs with justice and humanity, and to educate them alike in letters and in industry,” students were asked to name “two ways the British improved the lives of Africans.”

Socio-economic bias masquerading as cultural diversity: The 2006 New York State Regents third grade reading practice test used the example of African-American tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams to ask children questions about tennis “doubles” and country clubs.

Accidental (?) bias: In 2001, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) included a reading passage taken from Ann Cameron’s book, More Stories Julian Tells. The book is about an African-American family and is familiar to many African-American children, but the illustrations showed a white family.

Lack of cultural awareness: A Latina “bias reviewer” caught this item while reviewing questions prepared for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. “I remember one question that showed a picture of a couch on a porch and asked, ‘What doesn’t fit?’ ” she says. “I started laughing…the way I grew up, everyone had a couch outside.”

Watch for the increasing use of “feeling” questions which supposedly evaluate the student’s ability to construct meaning from the text but may also evoke a wide variety of life experiences resulting in “wrong” answers.


Today I will leave you with the Texas Revolt against high stakes testing as described by Shaun Johnson and Tom Slekar @ the chalk face radio.

A great resource on opting out of standardized testing is United Opt Out National. There are flyers, articles and links to what specific states are doing in terms of high stakes testing and opting your child out.