High-Stakes Testing Protests Spreading
Opposition to high-stakes standardized testing is growing around the country, with more parents choosing to opt their children out of taking exams, more school boards expressing disapproval of testing accountability systems and even a group of superintendents joining the fight.
Just last month I wrote about the growing resistance, noting that it wasn’t yet full-fledged but that it seemed to be picking up steam. It has and still is.
In Georgia, a group of school district superintendents, led by PelhamCity Schools chief Jim Arnold have started a petition calling on the state legislature to rethink its test-based accountability system. (Other superintendens on board include Danny Hawkins of Whitfield County Schools and Bill McCown of Gordon County Schools.)
That petition is based on a resolution that has been passed now by about 520 local school boards in Texas — including Houston, the home of the so-called “Texas miracle” that launched the high-stakes testing era. Those school boards represent more than 40 percent of the state’s students. It was the Texas education commission, Robert Scott, who earlier this year made news by saying publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He recently announced that he was resigning.
Arnold was influenced by a petition started in New York by school principals protesting the state’s new educator evaluation system that used in part standardized test scores of students. More than 1,400 New York principals have signed it.
Then professors in New York launched their own petition against the state’s educator evaluation system, while scores of professors and researchers from at least 16 universities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area signed an open letter to the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Chicago school officials warning against implementing a teacher evaluation system that is based on standardized test scores.
What’s the reason for the growing resistance? Actually, there are a number of them. Student scores on standardized tests have become the main accountability measure today for students, schools, teachers, principals, districts and even states. Assessment experts have warned that standardized tests are not designed for such purposes, but they are being used by reformers who either don’t believe the experts or are ignoring them.
Here’s more of what’s going on, from Monty Neill, executive director of the non-profit National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest:
*Testing errors, such as the notorious “Pineapple story” in New York and the “I have a secret” writing prompt in New Jersey have further roiled the waters. “Pineapple” was just one of more than 20 mistakes on the New York exams. The impact was intensified because New York’s tests are now kept secret. Until recently the state made its questions and answers public after administering them. Under its new contact with test-maker Pearson, however, they are secret, as they are in most states. Teachers face severe sanctions for revealing scores, but students and their parents have been revealing the flaws.
*In New York, parents are organizing to boycott the June administration of a “try out” test. Students will answer experimental questions so Pearson can select items for future tests, perhaps to be used in multiple states for more profits, as was “Pineapple.” The company already had included experimental questions on the May state tests.
Some parents opted their children out of the regular New York tests. In some cases, principals allowed the students to do schoolwork when exams were being administered, but in other schools principals threatened parents with truancy and child-endangerment laws. (Given that the tests have been known to increase fights in school, create emotional distress, and even induce vomiting, the real “child endangerment” is the testing.) Now, more and more parents, urban and suburban, are rising up to say, “Enough,” “No Mas.”
Opting out is not new. Boycotts grew in states such as Massachusetts when increased testing began under No Child Left Behind. Attaching high stakes to them, such as graduation and school sanctions, quieted the revolt. Students needed to pass to graduate and schools that did not test enough students would automatically fail. Still, in states such as Colorado, steady work by groups such as the Coalition for Better Schools has produced growing numbers of opting out parents. And in Snohomish, Washington, 550 parents held their children out, and they are working to spread the refusal to other communities.
*The national resolution has been endorsed by a variety of mjor national organizations have also endorsed the resolution. This includes education groups such as the National Education Association and National Association for Bilingual Education; civil rights organizations such as the NAACP-Legal Defense and Educational Fund and its Asian American counterpart, AALDEF; National Opportunity to Learn Campaign; religious denominations including Presbyterians; and more. The National PTA sent to its members a letter saying the resolution is congruent with PTA policy and urging locals to sign it.
You can see the list of signers – and add your endorsement - at the resolution home page http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution/.
* In Florida, two county school boards voted to support the national resolution: Palm Beach (the nation’s 11th largest) and Saint Lucie.
* More media attention is being paid to the emerging testing revolt. In Florida, for example, stories have proliferated in newspapers and on television. Editorials and columnists have denounced the state’s testing policy. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and MSNBC are among the major outlets providing coverage (as well, of course, as this blog). Nat Hentoff headlined his column for Southern Standard, “Parents rebel against standardized tests.”
If this keeps up, even President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are going to have to notice.
© 2012 The Washington Post