High Stakes Testing Backlash

The backlash against high-stakes testing is growing. JTF recently signed the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing, which simply states

WHEREAS, our nation's future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation's social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation's school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators' efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it RESOLVED, that [your organization name] calls on the governor, state legislature and state education boards and administrators to reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools; and RESOLVED, that join the Future calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as the "No Child Left Behind Act," reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

We joined 290 other organizations and almost 8,000 individuals in doing so. This growing movement is starting to have an effect. CNN

Welcome to the world of high-stakes standardized testing.

“I find it the most absurd thing in the world. I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re valid,” said Principal Anna Allanbrook at Public School 146 in Brooklyn, New York. “So the morale is down because teachers are worried that people who don’t really know their work will make decisions about their jobs.”
Across the country, teachers, principals and parents are pushing back against the test results carrying so much weight. More than 1,400 New York principals signed onto a letter to the state education commissioner that said the tests are deeply flawed. The outgoing Education Commissioner in Texas called standardized testing “the heart of the vampire.” Jenny LaCoste-Caputo of the Texas Association of School Administrators said, “This one test has become the single measure for a student’s success, for a school’s success, and that’s what is absolutely wrong.”

The Wall Street Journal reports

The increasing role of standardized testing in U.S. classrooms is triggering pockets of rebellion across the country from school officials, teachers and parents who say the system is stifling teaching and learning.

The increasing role of standardized testing in classrooms is triggering pockets of rebellion across the U.S. from school officials, teachers and parents. Stephanie Banchero has details on The News Hub. Photo: Brandon Kruse for The Wall Street Journal.

In Texas, some 400 local school boards—more than one-third of the state's total—have adopted a resolution this year asking lawmakers to scale back testing. In Everett, Wash., more than 500 children skipped state exams in protest earlier this month. A national coalition of parents and civil-rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, signed a petition in April asking Congress to reduce federal testing mandates.

In recent weeks, the protest spread to Florida, where two school boards, including Palm Beach County, signed on to a petition similar to the one in Texas. A parent in a third, Broward County, on Tuesday formally requested that school officials support the movement.

The efforts are a response to the spread of mandatory testing in the past decade. Proponents say the exams are needed to ensure students are learning and teachers' effectiveness is measured. Critics say schools are spending disproportionate time and resources on the tests at the expense of more-creative learning. They also contend the results weigh too heavily in decisions on student advancement, teacher pay and the fate of schools judged to have failed.

"They've turned a generation of kids into test-taking machines who are lacking creative-thinking ability," said Debbie Shaw, whose two children attend Palm Beach schools. She said she intends to enroll her younger child in a private school next year because she is so angered by Florida's "insane" testing regime.

the reason this backlas is growing is in part because stories and experiences like this are becoming mainstream

Other than the pep rally, teachers spent the week prior to the testing in meetings being lectured on the importance of test security, the protocols that would be our bible for the next two weeks, and on just exactly what would happen to us if these rules were not followed. The plans outlined what would happen from the moment the students entered the classroom until the last test was signed back into our testing coordinator. We were instructed to go over the plans, ask any questions we had and be prepared in the weeks to come. Due to the fact that our school was under scrutiny for previous allegations of cheating, we were warned that any negligence in conforming our classrooms and ourselves to these guidelines would result in an investigation and strict consequences.

I planned lessons throughout the meetings and graded papers in the background, only contributing my thoughts in areas which I found to be egregiously unreasonable or unjust. For example, lined paper for scrap paper, smiling at students (this is what they say is “coaching”), and allowing students to stand and stretch during testing would absolutely not be tolerated. As I listened to these rules, I pictured my bubbly bunch of eight year olds' faces. Then, the real bomb was dropped: Absolutely no bathroom breaks during testing unless the child was showing physical signs of distress. In addition, we also needed to prevent multiple bathroom trips by determining how badly each child had to use the restroom. Well, any teacher knows that once one student has “an emergency,” they all have emergencies. How am I to be the judge of the content of each child's bladder? To this I was told it would be easier to deal with angry parents of a child who had wet themselves, than to have to explain the situation to the monitors from central offices.

I decided that I'd be escorted out by authorities before I let nervous eight year old test-takers wet themselves on my watch. Are we that afraid of losing our jobs that we relinquish our humanity? Are we that desperate to prove that we are not cheating on these McTests that we deny children their basic needs? This is the “pinnacle” of insanity. This is the “pinnacle” of what an era of high-stakes testing is doing to our children and to our educators.

As testing was underway I became more and more irritated with not only the rules, but the fact that teachers’ discretion was being undermined by outsiders claiming to be experts on data, but not on children. Who are these people moving chairs from place to place around my room to see my test administration from multiple angles? Why are these strangers writing pages of notes on the condition of my classroom and my position in the room? The thought crossed my mind of just throwing the pile of test booklets in the air and screaming of its insanity, but what good would that do? I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the year with my students who had to put their science projects on the back burner for the two-week testing period. I would never get to see how they turned out if I was punished for breaching test security. I had already been scolded for allowing children to read books after they finished the test, as well as for allowing them to go to the bathroom. I decided to not push any further.

After being stalked throughout the building for two weeks in order to ensure that I would not change any test answers and spied on from just beyond my classroom door, my anxiety and disgust became overwhelming. After being witness to little children crying with anxiety and acting out in resistance and being forced to sit for hours completing endless assessments that they would most likely never see the results of, my faith in public education was diminishing. Why are teachers subject to this level of disrespect and distrust? Why are students subject to this much of a loss of real learning time?

Every day, more and more evidence comes out that challenges the reliability and validity of test results and demonstrates the unfairness of using these results to evaluate teachers. But I will comply with the rules and regulations--if for nothing else than to see my students' science projects and to see how much more they will accomplish this year; I am committed to my students and their learning even as I am opposed to the insane high-stakes testing regime that has been imposed on them. I will not, however, allow my students or myself to be de-humanized in the process.

How much longer can we allow our schools to feed the high-stakes testing machine rather than feed students’ imperative to learn? How much longer can we let testing replace teaching and learning? And how much longer can we remain silent throughout it all?