Words like hard, nervous, hate, long, boring, hard come pouring out of kids’ mouths whenever asked about standardized testing. Sometimes gum gets heard, too, but only because teachers are catching on to the research that chewing it during testing is associated with a 3% increase in math scores on standardized assessments. Small, yes, but considered “statistically significant,” so why not? Ditto when it comes to homework.
As for all those negatives, it’s really no wonder. Fact is, as the Council of Great City Schools reports, our kids take about 112 standardized tests between kindergarten and high school graduation, equating to about eight annually. That, in turn, translates to between 20 to 25 hours of class time every year!
The result: A collective parent and teacher uproar and the strengthening of what has become known as the Opt-Out Movement. And, rest assured, despite former Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s conclusion that opt-outers are just “white suburban moms” unhappy with falling scores, this movement has multi-colored legs here in Pennsylvania and across the country.
Indeed, last spring in Lower Merion, several teachers and parents took a stand against the high stakes Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). Saying, “Our kids and schools are more than a score,” they offered yard signs for one dollar apiece to residents, and every one of them was quickly scooped up. In the end, about 200 of the district’s children didn’t participate in the testing. In Philly, that number hit 595, with another 186 sitting out the Keystone Exams. Indeed, anti-testing pressure ultimately forced Governor Wolfe to postpone those Keystones as a graduation requirement until 2019. Meanwhile, across the commonwealth, some 4,500 students opted out last time around.
But, according to FairTest’s findings, those numbers pale in comparison to the more than 620,000 students in the 14 states that reported–some 240,000 of them in New York State alone. In New Jersey, the figure hit 110,000, and these numbers are sure to grow this spring.
Not everyone is pleased with that outlook, however, and that includes the National Parent Teacher Association, which takes the position that:
- “Tests and assessments are used most frequently to help students, teachers, schools, and parents know what students have learned and what they still need to study.”
- “Teachers can use information from assessments to design lessons that meet the needs of their students.”
- “School districts and states use assessment results to evaluate whether they are meeting their goals.”
- “Assessments also are used by policy-makers for accountability—to help gauge the effectiveness of programs and schools…”
Then there’s this from Pam Stewart, Florida’s education commissioner to every district: “… My belief is that students that do not want to test should not be sitting in public schools, as it is mandatory and required for students seeking a standard high school diploma. Statewide, standardized assessments are part of the requirement to attend school, like immunization records. That is our message and what we send to you to be shared with your staff.”
Nevertheless, the movement grows. Just this past February, the 2016 United Opt-Out Conference was held in Philadelphia, and one of its major goals was doing a better job of reaching out to minority families to join. Moreover, as the organization reminds us: The movement is about “much more than simply refusing high-stakes tests.”
For starters, the government sponsored and funded Common Core-aligned assessments—PARCC and SBAC—are more rigorous than those they replaced, so scores have slipped and anxiety levels have risen. Add that to the fact that 42 states and D.C.—up from 15 in 2009—now require that “student growth and achievement be considered in evaluations of public school teachers.” Stoking the flames, New York Governor Cuomo went and proposed that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on those test scores. Oh, yes, in 28 states, an “ineffective rating” is cause for dismissal.
Then there’s the fact that the K-12 education market pulls in more than $700 billion a year!
And one last tidbit: New Jersey is, for now anyway, the only state in the union to use the PARCC Common Core-aligned assessment as a graduation requirement—a purpose for which it was never designed. Stan Karp, director of the Secondary Reform Project of the Newark-based Education Law Center is, therefore, hoping to pressure the Department of Education to give this year’s graduating class a pass.
At the same time, the California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education has joined a call for an end to high-stakes testing, saying that “there is no ‘compelling’ evidence to support the idea that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education for children or close the achievement gap, and that Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability and fairness.”
Then there’s this from Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College: “The evidence is overwhelming that our national mania for testing—and for so much time in school and at schoolwork—is damaging the physical and psychological health of our children.”
Agree? Disagree? Stay tuned; the testing season is gearing up again–and so are the opt-outers.