Testing In Our Schools
Few people understand the reason behind most of the current testing in our schools. The end of the year standardized tests are a major concern of mine, and I hope will be yours after I summarize this topic. Your children are being used to fill corporate pockets, with end results being that your children get almost no benefit from this expensive, time consuming, and stress causing process.
In Oregon our schools are compelled to use the Smarter Balanced tests, as are other states that have have accepted this testing as part of the package to receive Race To The Top money from the Obama administration. This was all a part of the Common Core curriculum that our school districts are forced to use for assessing math and language arts. The test results measures how well their schools have equipped students with the reading, math, writing, and reasoning skills that experts say they need to be on track to succeed in college or in good paying-jobs, according to a new analysis by Education Week, an authoritative national education news outlet. These will be computerized tests instead of the pencil and paper tests of former years. It is to be administered in the Spring for grades 3 through 8 and for juniors in high school. The test is called a summative test compared to interim tests that may be given during the school year to help prepare students for the Spring test.
Allow me to attempt to explain how this came about without the details that you can find on the internet. Later in this article I will offer where we are at present with this testing, and what we may do about this dangerous process.
Remember the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program didn’t work? The states wanted to leave NCLB behind and use education standards that were more effective and beneficial to their students. Along came the government at the beginning of our most recent recession and in essence said, if you want to be relieved of the NCLB requirements, we will give you the opportunity not only to receive a portion of our Race To The Top money. You can also remove your commitment to the NCLB requirements. All you need to do is now agree to accept the new Common Core program and its testing. Even though the new untested and not fully completed Common Core standards hadn’t been completed, our Governor and the Oregon Dept. of Education signed onto this new program. They failed to get the RTTP funds but got a waiver from NCLB and do receive Title I money. Common Core was presented as a rigorous program that would ensure that all students would be adequately prepared for the work force and college entrance requirements. Yea, right! That’s another article.
Basically, the result of our legislators accepting this offer – sight unseen- resulted in all of our school districts, teachers, parents, and students being committed to this program. They had no say as to whether they could review and possibly choose these new standards with its requirements. This program was quietly brought into our classrooms without parent or district knowledge of the contents and had attached strings they were required to accept.
Realize that in order to do well on the tests, the teaching and materials had to focus on preparing students to do well. The Common Core math and language comprised the content for which the students were to be evaluated. Students were to be taught all the same material, often by scripted lessons from the teachers. The ability to personalize instruction and allow teachers to provide what they believe was best for each child, is mostly not possible. This one size fits all approach does not belong in our classrooms. In another article, I will focus on what the Common Core materials contain and why they are too often, not providing what parents want their children to learn, and how they prevent the opportunity for a child to learn at its own levels, interests, and potentials.
After spending many dozens of hours researching Common Core and the Smarter Balanced testing, I became aware that we needed to inform our district administrators, teachers, and parents as to what they got themselves into. As a result, a group of us have formed Parent Led Education, to inform and do something that will assist our administrators, teachers, citizens, and parents to more effective schooling for our youngsters.
One of the efforts of mine has been to inform the Grants Pass District 7 and Three Rivers School District school boards and personnel, of the detriments of the Smarter Balanced testing and the need to opt out of this program. I am attempting to show them that local control of our Boards and districts is beholding to follow the dictates of the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), instead of having the ability to do what they believe is best for their students.
One thing that I have attempted to present, is the cost of the testing program. Aside from some related costs to a district, the major cost of the testing is at the state level. In past years with the Oaks tests, the end of the year testing costs to state taxpayers was about 7 million dollars. The present Smarter Balance testing is costing about 12 million dollars. This is a cost that is totally not needed, as I will later point out.
It still amazes me that the Oregon Department of Education has completely ignored the teacher union’s request to opt out of the Smarter Balanced testing. Requests have also been made by our local teacher associations. No commitment has been made by the two school boards as yet. These denied requests for those who have direct responsibility to our children (our teachers), is being ignored. This is one of the evidences that local control is being taken away. Our districts and schools are being bullied by the ODE and their poor judgment.
Within a series of questions I asked key persons in the school districts whether Oregon school districts are not mandated under the supervision of the ODE or any other state agency. This is what the Oregon law states: ORS.332.072 – Legal Status of School Districts; “All school districts are bodies corporate, and the district school board is authorized to transact all business coming within the jurisdiction of the district and to sue and be sued. Pursuant to law, district school boards have control of the district schools and are responsible for educating children residing in the district.” The district is constitutionally and by the Oregon Revised Statutes, a separate entity to freely set their own standards.
The response from one district said this is incorrect. In essence, the response was to point out the varied responsibilities of a school board. Within those statutes there was no reference that says the ORS law was replaced by any law that says the board must lawfully do what the ODE tells them. I went further to quote the following. “ Page 7 of the Oregon Assessment manual states, Summative assessments are not designed as diagnostic tools for student placement or as formative assessments. Note: Essential Skills Assessment Administration states: This Test Administration Manual contains the administration requirements and procedures for those statewide assessments that may be used by students as evidence of proficiency in the Essential Skills—. This says the assessment MAY be used. It is not lawfully required. This is a good source that offers information about testing: http://fairtest.org/why-you-can-boycott-testing-without-fear .
I also asked, “ Where is it stated that if the District fails to implement Common Core standards, that the district will be deficient? ORS 327.103(1) refers to, All school districts are presumed to maintain a standard school district. The only places where I see the CCSS references are in the language arts and mathematics.” I haven’t had a response to that question, so I assume that the district is basing their concern without a lawful requirement, saying they are deficient if they neglect to use the standards and its testing.
Further I asked, “ If your district were to opt out totally to the Smarter Balanced testing, what would the consequences be to your district?” This was their correct response: “ All school districts are presumed to maintain a standard school district until the district is found to be deficient by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, pursuant to standards and rules of the State Board of Education. See ORS 327.103(1). If a District fails to correct deficiencies in its standards, the Superintendent of Public Instruction may withhold portions of the State School Fund moneys otherwise allocated to the school district for operating expenses until such deficiencies are corrected, unless the withholding would create an undue hardship, as determined pursuant to rules of the State Board of Education. See ORS 327.103(2). If the District fails to implement common core standards as required by the Oregon Board of Education, it will be determined deficient and will be required to create a plan to bring the District into compliance with the standards. If the District fails to comply with the standards within 90 days, then state school funds can be withheld.” This is a clear case of unlawful coercion. It is taking away a districts choice to set their own standards and have the freedom to make changes if they are inclined to do so.
My response to these statutes, was that I understood and had done a lot of research related to this “deficiency” process. Districts in rare occasions, as in the southern states, have been put on notice but no where has there been a case where state school funds have been withheld. Here again, it is the concern for money that is the priority, taking precedence over the welfare of what is best for the students.
A few states have totally opted out of accepting the Common Core standards and its testing requirements. Many more states are currently trying to do the same, including the summative testing at the end of a school year.
On average it takes a student about 7 hours to complete a summative test, plus the time to train for the testing, and the many hours of taking the interim tests during the school year. By the way, results of the testing that has taken place in other states who have been more involved to this point than Oregon, is resulting in about 65% failing. Can you imagine the effect this has on the children and the teachers who may have had to be evaluated on the results.
From my perspective, we don’t need these expensive and valueless standardized tests. Typically, the curriculum must have contents that teach to the test, rather than teaching to the levels, needs, and potentials of each student. Most important, and this was admitted to by the District 7 superintendent and curriculum specialists, there is no direct benefit to the students who took the tests. The so-called value is to compare the results to other districts and states, and hope to be able to see what areas of instruction need to be improved. Meanwhile, the data collected from each student is maintained by the Smarter Balanced corporation and their cooperating corporations involved with the process. More of this data mining – pretty scary stuff – will be presented in another article. A family who is concerned about privacy will need to learn about this.
So what we have, is a costly test to taxpayers, the loss of freedom for teachers because they must teach to the test, and to the students themselves. If you go to the internet to learn more about Common Core and its testing, you will find countless testimonies about the stress and other problems related to this testing procedure and preparations for the tests.
Recently I had a brief discussion with a school board member. Even though he was learning that the tests don’t have any direct value to the students, he thought it was okay to have the student tested at the end of the year for the sake of the statistics. He thought it doesn’t hurt for a child to take class time to take the test. With all due respect, this is very short sighted. It doesn’t take into account of the need to teach to the test as I describe. It doesn’t value the costs for the districts to be involved with teacher training, time taken from classroom instruction to train students how to take the tests, and costs related to computer maintenance.
As yet, I haven’t found a federal or state law that requires a standardized test. There may be one but it presently alludes me. Surely, the federal government shouldn’t require one. If they did, it would be in violation of constitutionally based federal guidelines. That would deprive state and parent rights to provide education for their children.
Most important, is my concern to testing for the benefit of each student. What is called formative tests is all that is really needed. The teacher administers a test after the completion of each unit of study. The results are evaluated by the teacher, with direct application to what the student may or may not need to do, in order to master what is required. This process benefits the student, unlike standardized tests, and helps the teacher to assist as needed. We need to keep in mind of our responsibility to the child, not a corporation that benefits from the tests. As a sign or tee shirt on a child may read, “I am not a test score!”
For those who wish to opt out of taking these Smarter Balanced tests, you are invited to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I will reply with an attached form that will assist with this process. You may also find our local group, as we offer materials and petitions, at various community functions. If you get any resistance from the child’s teacher or administrator, feel free to contact me for related ideas.