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Part 5: High Stakes Testing and Opting Out: The Push Back

The Push Back: Opting Out

boycott

(A continuation from Part 4: High Stakes Testing: The Consequences.)

Parents, teachers, principals, school board members and education administrators are beginning to understand that this excessive focus on testing has hurt their schools and their students.

In Seattle, for example, the MAP test is administered twice each school year with the choice for the student to be tested a third time. There is also the statewide Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) that is administered to students in Seattle. That is three if not four standardized tests that a student in public school is required to take unless the parents opt their student out of the testing.

Because of this over testing phenomenon, parents, communities, and even states are signing resolutions to opt out of standardized testing and students are being pulled out of the testing regimen by their parents.

Parents have organized in Washington State, Colorado and Texas to say “No” to the standardized testing.

The New York State Parent Teacher Association created a resolution on ending high stakes testing in 2012. The introductory paragraphs are as follows:

There is now more than two decades of scientific research demonstrating that high-stakes testing regimes yield unreliable measures of student learning. Such tests cannot serve as a basis for determining teacher effectiveness. In fact, scientific research shows that high-stakes testing lowers the quality of education. Some of the documented harmful outcomes of high-stakes testing are: “teaching to the test”; narrowed curriculum opportunities; increased emotional distress among children and increased “drop outs”; corruption; the marginalization of both very high performing students and students with special needs; an overall lowering of standards and disregard for individual difference, critical thinking and human creativity. Thus, high-stakes testing has been proven to be an ineffective tool for preparing students for the 21st century.

The intent of this resolution is to ask the State Education Department to suspend its testing program until such time as it can create a new one that reliably measures educational progress without harming children and lowering the quality of education. We need a testing program that helps students and schools, not harms them.

And one of the resolutions:

RESOLVED, that the New York State Parent Teacher Association calls on Andrew Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York, the Board of Regents of the State University of New York, and Dr. John B. King, Jr., Commissioner of the State Education Department to enact a moratorium on policies that force New York State public schools to rely on high-stakes testing due to the fact that there is no convincing evidence that the pressure associated with high-stakes testing leads to any important benefits to student achievement.

School #12 in Rochester, New York urged parents to have their students opt out of the state test. According to one of the members of the PTA:

“We’re asking parents to boycott the test, still send their children to school,” said Vicki Robertson, the PTA vice-president. “We’ve asked the principal to have an alternative activity for the children to do and she’s assured us that there will be, so they can get some usefulness out of their day.”

The reason given for urging parents to opt their students out of the test was because the testing company Pearson had been under fire for poorly written questions and questions with errors. The test question scandal that was to be known as Pineapplegate had spread throughout the country. It was about an odd story with nonsensical questions that appeared on a New York State standardized test. This question had been recycled by Pearson on exams across the country.

In Snohomish, Washington, parents organized to opt their students out of standardized tests and established a group called We Support Schools Snohomish.

Initially, the group had lobbied against budget cuts to education in Washington State and then continued by establishing a successful opt out campaign in their school district.

They started a Facebook page that grew quickly and began to catch the attention of the local press.

Newspapers in the state picked up the news and word spread quickly. Some of the newspapers were The Herald, Some Snohomish parents opt out of standard tests, the News Tribune, Parents of 550 Snohomish students refuse to let kids take MSPs, and the Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA parents refuse to let their 550 kids take MAPS.

State Representative Mike Hope, met with representatives of We Support Schools Snohomish and after the meeting, made this entry on his website:

“Parents in my community are concerned because they see teachers being laid off while money is used for tests that don’t benefit their kids,” said Hope. “Parents are having to pay for additional tutoring outside of school, because kids aren’t getting enough time with their teachers and class sizes are increasing. Meanwhile, the state spends millions of dollars on the MSP.”

Hope has supported changes to assessments and test funding in the past. In 2011, he sponsored House Bill 1519 which gave schools flexibility in how they test students with cognitive disabilities. Until the bill became law in July, the practice was for students to take a complicated assessment.

This year, Hope sponsored legislation (House Bill 2633) that would give parents information about required assessments and the cost for administering them. Hope plans to propose legislation that would allow parents and school districts to opt out of state mandated tests. The legislation is necessary in order to avoid repercussions for students whose parents have opted out.

“We need legislation that makes opting out a legal alternative for parents and an accepted option for students.”

In the end 550 students in the Snohomish School District opted out of the state test.

The Texas Education Commissioner, Robert Scott, said that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” and is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He called “the assessment and accountability regime” not only “a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex,” and he attacked the Common Core Standards Initiative as being motivated by business concerns. He agreed to postpone the requirement that end-of-the-year test results should account for 15% of a student’s final grade.

“I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system that we have created has become a perversion of its original intent, the intent to improve teaching and learning. The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield, and I look forward to reeling it back in.”

Then, Kelli Moulton, the Superintendent of Hereford Independent School District in Texas, was quoted as saying that she was considering not turning into the state Education Department her students’ end of the school year STAAR exam results.

Tom Paukin, the Texas Workforce Commissioner, stated in a speech to students at Texas State Technical College that before he vacates his seat he plans to focus on working with legislative leaders to do away with standardized testing. He stated that the focus has become “teaching to the test” and little else.

In an interview, Commissioner Paukin was quoted as saying,

“I’m really concerned we’re choking off the pipeline of skilled workers that our employers need,” he said. “We’re spending too much time and effort teaching to the test instead of focusing on real learning.”

In Florida US Representative Kathy Castor has called on Education Secretary Arne Duncan to investigate Florida’s school accountability system and the state FCAT tests. She stated during a press conference that “We need some accountability for Florida’s accountability system”. This is in reaction to variations in test scores and the state deciding to lower the bar on test scores. FCAT test results in Florida are tied to student promotion, graduation and teachers pay.

Representative Castor has supported the Florida School Board Association’s call for an outside audit of the testing system.

In 2011, 1,400 principals in the state of New York formed an organization called The New York Principals and  signed an open letter  protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.

A National Resolution of High Stakes Testing was written by a group of organizations including:

  •  The  Advancement Project
  • Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Fair Test
  • Forum for Education and Democracy
  • Mecklenburg ACTS
  • Deborah Meier
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
  • National Education Association
  • New York Performance Standards Consortium
  • Tracy Novick
  • Parents Across America
  •  Parents United for Responsible Education – Chicago
  • Diane Ravitch
  • Race to Nowhere
  • Time Out From Testing
  • United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

Within two weeks 240 organizations and 6,000 individuals concerned about the damaging effects of high-stakes testing endorsed the resolution.

In Texas a resolution on high stakes testing passed by more than 360 school boards.

Two websites have been created in response to this emphasis on testing. Fair Test which provides information on testing and test assessments and updates on what is happening around the country in terms of testing and parents opting their students out of high stakes testing. The other website, United Opt Out National, provides useful information on how parents can legally opt their students out of standardized tests.

Conclusion

A University of Texas at Austin professor, Walter Stroup, developed a math pilot program in 2011 for middle school students in Dallas. The students’ understanding of math had improved over the months as students took part in this pilot program but at the end of the year, students’ scores had increased slightly on a state standardized test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills assessment (TAKS). TAKS had been administered since 2003 and was used as an indicator to which students should be promoted or allowed to graduate from high school.

Mr. Stroup and two other researchers studied the test and believe they found the reason for this and other discrepancies. According to Stroup, there is “a glitch embedded in the DNA of the state exams that, as a result of a statistical method used to assemble them, suggests they are basically useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction.”

Since then, the state of Texas has replaced the TAKS test with another standardized test referred to as STARR to be rolled out in 2013.

Will this new test be any better? Should it be used to decide who is promoted to the next grade and who can graduate from high school? Should it be used to determine the fate of a teacher’s career, a public school or a community?

Until we know without any doubt that there is a fair and reliable way to measure student performance and growth, these tests should not be used to control the fate of our public schools or the teachers and principals who work in them.

There has been so much focus placed on test scores that our students are losing the joy of learning. One of my most memorable times in high school was when my English teacher took two weeks to read a Tale of Two Cites to us. His dramatic flair and probing questions left a permanent impression on my mind. I will never forget those days or that book. My concern is for those lost hours of exploration, wonder and surprise that bring about the exciting sparks of learning and creativity.

Let’s not allow that sense of excitement to be lost amidst the hours of memorization of facts that will become lost over time when not set within a meaningful context.

Dora Taylor

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