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Testing Pushback Begins in Earnest

October 29, 2013

A Diane Ravitch blog post and a NYTimes news report show that two influential groups are firmly opposed to the testing regimen inappropriately labelled “reform”.

Diane Ravitch’s post had a link to a letter to parents from the NYS Principals that provided tow lists: “…what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.” Diane Ravitch posted the “what we know” list, but I found the “what we don’t know” list more compelling. Here it is:

Here’s what we do not know:

1)    How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.

2)    How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.

3)    The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.

4)    What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.

5)    How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.

The NYTimes article described how “…a group calling itself Anonymous, in the spirit of the amorphous global hacking network” got its hands on a field test the Montclair NJ school district was planning to administer to help its students prepare for the forthcoming State tests that are aligned with the common core. The group of test anarchists are parents, a group that is increasingly voicing opposition to the testing regimen the Superintendent and Board are introducing in the name of “reform’. Why would parents oppose testing?

Christopher L. Len, 39, whose son is in third grade at the Charles H. Bullock school, said Monday that testing was taking time away from more worthy pursuits. “If they don’t learn now how to initiate a conversation, how to cooperate, how to be a good friend, then I think their elementary school experience will have failed them,” he said.

Most parents understand that school is about more than testing. It’s also about learning how to build relationships and have opportunities to express oneself creatively. Parents in a relatively affluent district like Montclair are especially aware of the absurdity of preparing for tests: they know their schools aren’t “failing” students because the students are going on to college or capable of finding employment upon graduation. They see that preparing for tests takes away time that can be used more productively. And, as this incident indicates, they know how to resist.

So two influential groups are mobilizing in opposition to the “reformers”: principals and middle class parents… and I expect to see more pushback until the “reformers” can answer the Principals questions convincingly and explain to parents why taking time for tests isn’t wasted. I don’t think the answers or rationale will be forthcoming.


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