Marion Brady and Valerie Strauss posted an interesting article on Waldorf Today recently. I saved it and wanted to come back to it because I thought it was a great story.
In the article, they explain how a board member of a Florida public school district subjected himself to the same tests that the 10th graders in his district were required to pass. He was a successful businessman with several degrees and I am sure you can guess the result….he did not do well on the tests.
You may read the article here:
Waldorf Today Article
In a similar vein, KHOU-Tv featured a story with 3rd Grade STARR tests. Are you smarter than a 3rd Grader?
In the early 2000’s I took a temporary position with Pearson testing, grading standardized tests from Washington State and from Florida. The tests were fifth grade Science essay answers based on given criteria and rated them on a 0-4 scale. This experience was truly fascinating and revealed a lot to me about how testing companies operate and how these tests are graded. The testing industry is a business that is feeding off of public education like a giant, hungry leech and its time to address it.
The NEA says that approximately 30% of the school day in state schools is spent on testing and test-prep. This is sucking the life and joy out of our schools and is stressing children and teachers out.
KPFT featured a story on parents who opted out of standardized tests in Houston.
Parents Opt-Out of Standardized Tests in Houston
In the radio piece, Community Voices for Public Education is featured. Their website provides the following further reasons for opting out of standardized tests:
Reasons to Opt Out of STAAR – From (Houstoncvpe.org)
- Oppose endlesss benchmark tests (“snapshots”) that take huge chunks out of instructional time.
- Support classroom assessments written, chosen and administered by the classroom teacher. This can support meaningful instruction in ways standardized testing cannot.
- Support a rich curriculum – teachers are incentivized (or forced) to teach only what could be on the tests. Art, music, PE, writing, science, and social studies get pushed to the side.
- Oppose a hostile test prep culture reduces students to data points, ignoring their real needs
- Oppose the use of scores to justify closing schools in low income neighborhoods, punishing students for the effects of poverty
- Oppose the use of STAAR to evaluate teachers. Scores are statistically invalid and unreliable measures of student, teacher, and school progress (according to The American Statistical Association).
- Opt Out works. It gives parents and communities a powerful voice to demand an end to the test prep culture. In 2015, after New York State parents opted 20% of New York students out of their state tests, New York established a four-year moratoriumon using student test scores to retain students or to evaluate teachers.
- While low stakes diagnostic testing is a meaningful component of a world class education, high stakes testing does grave harm to our schools.
What’s wrong with high stakes testing?
1.) STAAR tests are poorly written and developmentally inappropriate. Try some sample STAAR third grade math questions.
2.) The American Statistical Association has shown the tests to be invalid and unreliable measures, yet they continue to be used to make high stakes decisions about students (retention/promotion), teachers (retention/compensation), and schools (closure).
3.) Teachers are pressured or forced to teach test prep almost every single instructional day, and children spend countless hours taking benchmarks, snapshots, and practice tests to prepare for STAAR.
4.) A rich curriculum which includes the arts encourages creativity, analytical thinking, and complex problem solving. By contrast, a narrow test prep curriculum relies on multiple choice tests which elicit shallow, black and white thinking.
5.) STAAR tests are inappropriate for many special education students and English language learners, who are required to take the same tests as other students.
6.) STAAR tests are disproportionately damaging to Black and Brown children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Schools that primarily serve these students are pressured to spend inordinate amounts of time on test prep for fear that test scores will be used as an excuse to close these neighborhood schools down.
7.) Texas spent almost half a billion dollars from 2010–2015 on STAAR testing alone. Local schools and districts have most likely spent an additional half billion on test prep material, benchmark tests, etc. Spending this much on testing takes away resources needed to ensure that our schools have an adequate number of nurses, counselors, librarians, social workers, and teachers.
8.) When your child takes a standardized test like STAAR or uses computer programs to prepare for it, there is a strong possibility that his or her personal data are sold to or accessed by companies without your knowledge or permission.
9.) For no solid pedagogical reason, the state occasionally and randomly raises STAAR passing standards for some academic years. This means that fewer children pass during those years and that one year’s pass or fail cannot be compared to another year’s pass or fail. (Read about last year’s higher passing thresholds.) Recent changes in state math standards brought 6th grade level standards down to the 4th grade over the course of a year.
10.) Last year’s STAAR tests were illegal, and this year’s are questionable. TEA ignored the new requirements in state law HB 743 for the 2015-2016 school year: they refused to shorten the tests for grades 3-5 and grade 7 as the law required. They also tried to avoid having the assessments independently validated to assure that they were age-appropriate. Eventually, they had a company evaluate the tests, and they were not found to measure what they said they did. And only after a class action lawsuit by Texas parents did they shorten the tests.
11.) The high stakes testing culture is stressful at some schools, toxic and dehumanizing at others. Neither is an ideal environment for learning.
Instead, standardized testing should be limited, should be low stakes and used only for diagnostic purposes. Assessments are best able to support student learning when written by those closest to the students--their teachers.