As we enter the high-stakes testing season, a great uprising to opt out of these punitive and reductive exams is sweeping the country. So it’s no surprise that corporate education reformers–attempting to defend the multibillion dollar testing industry–have been launching aggressive attacks on the movement.
One such attack targeted one of the main rallying cries of our movement and the title of the book I edited, More Than a Score.
In “More than Score. Yes. Duh?” Erika Sanzi argues that it is obvious that students are more than a test score, “but that doesn’t mean that their scores on tests aren’t valuable to them, their parents, or their schools.” She goes on to ridicule people who believe that the overuse of high-stakes testing is distorting education, saying: “It is baffling that highly intelligent and otherwise rational people have chosen to latch onto this bumper sticker sounding slogan.”
Sanzi goes on to defend high-stakes testing, writing:
Our kids take swimming tests. They don’t lose the essence of who they are because they fail to float on their back for 30 seconds or tread water for a minute. They just try again next time. It’s probably safe to say we all know people who have failed their first driver’s license road test. They’ve all lived to tell about it, most even laugh about it, and it certainly doesn’t define who they are. It was a brief failure. Life is full of them.
Magnificent! Here you have the total confusion of the education “testocracy” distilled. Because the entire point of the opt out movement is to reduce the amount of multiple choice standardized tests and move to assessments like the driving road tests and swimming tests. However, imagine for a moment if we treated the swimming test like the standardized tests in school that Sanzi advocates. Imagine if we sat kids down in rows of desks and said:
This exam will test your ability to swim. Mark the bubble that corresponds to the best answer choice. Consider this sample question:
The fastest swimming stroke is the:
- crawl stroke
- fish kick
- None of the above
When you have completed this exam the results will be scored. If you score well, we will throw you into the deep end. If you score poorly, even if you are a great swimmer, you will remain in the shallow end. In addition, if too many of your classmates score poorly on this exam, we are going to close down your pool altogether.
As silly as this scenario seems, it is what corporate education reformers (including the Walton family, which helps funds the website Sanzi writes for) are imposing on our public schools. Worse, the attitude that if a child fails a test she should take comfort that it is only a “brief failure” is completely out of touch with the severely punitive nature of high-stakes testing these days, in which a low test score can mean a student does not graduate, teachers are fired, and whole schools are shut down.
The mass movement against standardized testing—including over 600,000 families opting out of standardized tests last year—objects to the fact that the average student in the public school system today will take an outlandish 112 standardized tests between pre-K and high school. However, this is not a rebellion against assessment. Our movement simply demands authentic forms of assessment.
Those that reflect actual student knowledge and learning, not just test taking skills; are educational in and of themselves; are free of gender, class and racial bias; are differentiated to meet students’ needs; allow opportunities to go back and improve; and undergo regular evaluation and revision by educators.
One important alternative to standardized testing is performance based assessment, which promotes inquiry, problem solving, and critical thinking. My colleagues and I at Garfield High School have began collaborating with the New York Consortium for Performance Based Assessment (The partnership is portrayed in one section of the new documentary, Beyond Measure). As Gail Robinson writes of the Consortium:
While most New York students must pass state exams in five subjects to graduate, the consortium’s 38 schools have a state waiver allowing their students to earn a diploma by passing just one exam: comprehensive English. (An additional nine schools have a partial waiver.) Instead, in all subjects including English, the students must demonstrate skill mastery in practical terms. They design experiments, make presentations, write reports and defend their work to outside experts.
The performance based assessment model is very similar to the process a PhD candidate undergoes in preparing a dissertation and defending it to a panel of experts. Multiple choice standardized tests are good at demonstrating students’ ability to spot what are called “distractor questions,” and students with the resources purchase test prep classes that are able to train students to eliminate wrong answer choices better than their peers. However, the ability to eliminate wrong answer choices is not authentic to most real life situations students will face. In the world outside of corporate education reform, students will need to be able to research issues, work collaboratively in groups, develop arguments, solve real life problems, and more. Performance based assessments at the Consortium schools allow students to engage in those real life skills–much the same as a swimming test.
The superiority of authentic assessment over multiple choice, standardized testing can be seen in part by the outcomes of the Consortium schools. A recent study shows that 77 percent of students who started high school at a Consortium school in the fall of 2010 graduated in four years, compared to 68 percent for all New York City students. Last year, 71 percent of students learning English at Consortium schools graduated on time, compared to only 37 percent of English learners around the city. Eighty-six percent of black students and 90 percent of Latino students at the Consortium schools are accepted into college, compared with the national numbers 37 percent and 42 percent respectively. Moreover, longitudinal studies show that Consortium school students complete college at higher rates–likely due to the emphasis on the very inquiry and critical thinking skills that are valued in college.
Parents and teachers across the country have united to demand an education system that recognizes children’s needs aren’t satisfied by filling in bubbles on an exam. So, before we throw our schools into the deep end, let’s demand authentic assessment now!
Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. You can view his TEDx talk “More Than a Score” or follow him on twitter: @JessedHagopian
“More Than a Score” TEDx Talk: Jesse Hagopian on the uprising against high-stakes testing and for a meaningful education
I recently gave this talk titled, “More Than a Score,” for the TEDx Rainer event at Seattle’s McCaw Hall theater. In this talk I advocate for the great uprising against reducing our children to a test score and I make an argument to opt in to authentic assessments–not only because it will better engage students, but also because the future of our society and planet depend on it.
Jesse Hagopian is a high school history teacher and associate editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. Jesse is the editor of, More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. Follow him on his blog, IAmAnEducator.com or on twitter, @jessedhagopian
Because most of their arguments are increasingly discredited because of this uprising, they are desperately attempting to cling to one last defense of the need to subject our students to a multibillion-dollar testing industry.
Charles F. Coleman, Jr. supported this last ditch effort for the “testocracy” when he took up former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s argument that opposition to standardized testing was only from out of touch “white suburban moms.” Coleman has in the past written pieces in support of making black lives matter, but in this careless piece he dismissed the opt out movement as a privileged white effort:
Boycotting standardized tests may seem like a good idea, but hurts black learners most….White parents from well-funded and highly performing areas are participating in petulant, poorly conceived protests that are ultimately affecting inner-city blacks at schools that need the funding and measures of accountability to ensure any hope of progress in performance.
Here are six reasons why Coleman’s belief that opting out hurts students of color is fundamentally flawed and why his belief that accountability and academic success require high-stakes standardized testing is just plain old wrong.
1. Extreme over-testing disproportionately harms students of color.
Coleman admits in his essay, “there should be concerns raised over excessive testing and devoting too much classroom instruction to test prep.” But he doesn’t acknowledge how destructive excessive testing has become (especially for children of color) or credit the opt out movement for revealing the outsized role that testing is playing in education. No one—certainly not the media—would even be talking about the excessive testing in schools if it wasn’t for the opt out movement. And the amount of testing in the public schools today isn’t just excessive—it’s extreme. The average student today is subjected to 112 standardized tests between preschool and high school graduation!
But the crux of the issue is that the highest concentration of these tests are in schools serving low-income students and students of color. Schools that serve more black and brown students have become test-prep factories rather than incubators of creativity and critical thinking. The corporate education reformers behind high stakes testing, like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family want their own kids to have the time and support to explore the arts, music, drama, athletics, debate and engage in a rich curriculum of problem solving and critical thinking. Rote memorization for the next standardized tests is good enough for the rest of us.
2. Communities of color are increasingly joining and leading the opt out movement.
While it’s true that currently the students opting out are disproportionately white, to portray opting out as a white people thing is to make invisible the important leadership role that people of color have played around the country. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, a black women, is one of the most important leaders in the country against corporate education reform, and she led the union in the “Let Us Teach!” campaign against high-stakes testing. The Black opt out rate reached 10 percent in Chicago last year. PTA co-chairs Đào X. Trần and Elexis Loubriel-Pujols at New York City’s Castlebridge Elementary School (comprising 72 percent students of color) led the opt out movement there. They gained national prominence and helped to ignite the opt out movement across the country in 2013 when more than 80 percent of families refused to allow their kids to take a standardized test. The school had to cancel the test altogether.
One of the largest student protests against high-stakes testing in U.S. history occurred last spring when many hundreds of students in New Mexico—at schools that served 90% Latino students—walked out of school and refused to take the new Common Core exams. In Ohio, a recent study shows that communities of color and low-income communities opt out at nearly the same rates as whiter and wealthier ones.
In my hometown, the Seattle/King County NAACP hosted a press conference last spring to encourage parents to opt out of the Common Core tests. As Seattle NAACP president Gerald Hankerson put it, “…the Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region. Using standardized tests to label black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country.”
Or check out the brilliant podcast, “These Tests Will Go,” The Opt-Out Movement in Urban Philadelphia, which documents the uprising of African American parents determined to make their kids more than a test score and fighting for the programs their kids deserve.
3. The federal government hasn’t punished schools for opting out.
Coleman argues that if the number of students taking the required standardized tests drops below 95 percent, the government can cut funding to schools, and that will be most damaging to students of color. However, the federal government has never—not even once—cut funds to a school district for its high opt out numbers. While No Child Left Behind initially had a provision for penalties against large opt out numbers, which carried over to the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the “testocracy” seems to be too afraid to use this clause.
Moreover, the opt out movement holds the potential to actually increase the amount of school funding. The many millions of dollars wasted on ranking and sorting our children with standardized tests every year could be spent on tutoring programs, counseling services, art teachers, nurses, librarians, music programs, ethnic studies classes, and many services our children deserve.
4.Test-and-Punish policies are cruel and inequitable.
High-stakes tests are being used around the country to label children and schools as failing, to prevent kids from graduating, to fire teachers, and to close schools. Chicago Board of Education voted in 2013 to close some 49 of the city’s public schools—schools that served approximately 87 percent black students. 71 percent of the schools had a majority African-Americans teachers and staff. The standardized tests the students take register racial and class bias, measure the lack of resources available to schools, and then provide cover for shutting them down.
A review by the National Research Council concluded high school graduation tests have done nothing to lift student achievement, but they have raised the dropout rate. African American, Latino, American Indian and low-income students are far more likely to be denied a diploma for not passing a test. High stakes tests often inaccurately assess English language learners—measuring their understating of English and the dominant culture rather than the subject they are being tested in. Boston University economics professor Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” links increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams to increased incarceration rates.
5) Standardized testing was invented by white supremacists and maintains institutional racism today.
Once you know the history of standardized tests in public schools, you can never fall for Coleman’s absurd assertion that, “boycotting standardized tests may seem like a good idea, but hurts black learners most.” Standardized tests first entered American public schools in the 1920s, at the urging of eugenicists whose pseudoscience proclaimed that white males were naturally smarter. As Rethinking Schools editorialized, “high-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a ‘mental ability’ gap and now an ‘achievement’ gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.”
One of these early eugenicists was Carl Brigham, a professor at Princeton University and author of the white supremacist manifesto, A Study of American Intelligence. Brigham developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT. Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Howard Long. Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” noted in 1924 what today we call the “Zip Code Effect”—what standardized tests really measure is a student’s proximity to wealth and the dominant culture.
6. There are better ways than high stakes testing to improve education for children of color.
Coleman asserts that, “Standardized testing, albeit imperfect, remains one of the best ways to ensure that teachers, schools, and school districts are held accountable for making sure children are succeeding.” A huge body of evidence contradicts this statement, and points to the power of an inquiry based pedagogy, coupled with authentic forms of assessment. Take, for example, the New York Consortium Schools for Performance Based Assessment. These fully public schools have a waiver from state tests and instead use performance-based assessments. Students work with a faculty mentor to develop an idea, conduct research, and then defend a body of work to a panel of experts—including school administration, other teachers, and outside experts and practitioners in the field of study.
If the testocracy is right—if it’s true that high-stakes standardized testing is the key to improving accountability and performance—then these New York consortium schools that don’t give the state standardized test should be the very worst schools in New York City. However, comprehensives studies show Consortium Schools have higher graduation rates, better college attendance rates, and smaller gaps in outcomes between students of color and their white peers than the rest of New York’s public schools.
Conclusion: Hold the system accountable
Coleman’s arguments lamenting students of color score worse on the tests than their white peers—without acknowledging the ways in which systematic underfunding of schools, poverty, and institutional racism have disfigured our school system—end up pathologizing communities of color rather than supporting them. The U.S. school system is more segregated today than at any time since 1968. The majority of students attending public school in the U.S. today live in poverty. The school-to-prison-pipeline (including disproportionate suspension rates and the use of high-stakes testing) has contributed to the fact that there are now more black people behind bars, on probation, or on parole than were slaves on plantations in 1850. As education professor Pedro Noguera has said, “We’ve developed an accountability system that holds those with the most power the least accountable.”
Our task must be to build multiracial alliances in the opt out movement that can produce the kind of solidarity it will take to defeat a testing juggernaut that is particularly destructive to communities of color—while causing great damage to all of our schools. And while must begin by standing up to the multibillion dollar testing industry by opting out, we must also create a vision for an uprising that opts in to antiracist curriculum, ethnic studies programs, wrap around services to support the academic and social and emotional development of students, programs to recruit teachers of color, restorative justice programs that eliminate zero tolerance discipline practices, and beyond.
Now, back to writing that opt out letter for my son.
Jesse Hagopian is the Progressive Education Seattle Fellow. Jesse teaches history and is the co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School–the site of the historic boycott of the MAP test in 2013. Jesse is the editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing. You can follow Jesse on his blog, IAmAnEducator.com, or on Twitter: @jessedhagopian
The infamous MAP test is set to be administered in my son’s school this week. The MAP is a computerized test meant to measure students in math and reading. Seattle Public Schools initially required MAP kindergarten through high school, with multiple testing periods per year. In 2013, Garfield High School launched a boycott of the MAP test and numerous schools joined in refusing to administer the test. By the end of the year the district announced that it would no longer be requiring the MAP test at the high school level. Since then, the increasing pressure of the opt out movement and scrutiny on the role of high stakes testing in our education system have continued to reduce the use of the MAP test in the Seattle Public Schools.
The opt out movement has pointed out that the MAP test consumes too much class time, monopolizes computers and shuts down school libraries, is not linguistically or culturally appropriate for English language learners, and has a questionable validity (consider this research from https://scrapthemap.wordpress.com: PowerPoint: The MAP test).
Most recently, the district reduced the number of times per year that kindergarten through 2nd grades are required to administer MAP from 2-3 times per year to only once a year. However, there continue to be high stakes attached to MAP that can make it difficult for schools to reduce the number of times it is administered.
For example, schools that receive desperately needed extra levy funds from the city can lose funding if their test scores are not high enough. This is an egregious misuse of standardized test scores. Money for vital programs serving children in high poverty schools should never be cut based on a test that was not designed to be used for high stakes decisions.
Given all the specific problems with the MAP test, and the larger issue of misuse of standardized testing in general, my wife and I wrote this letter to our school’s principal opting our son out of the test this week:
Happy New Year! We hope you had a restful break.
We are writing to opt our first grade son out of all MAP testing for this 2015-2016 school year.
We are opting him out of standardized testing because we have seen the way an over-emphasis on scores has distorted what matters most in elementary education–such as creativity, being a good friend, communicating emotions, and problem solving. Ranking students based on test scores in the early grades can damage the self-esteem of late bloomers, and can distort the higher scoring students’ perceptions of themselves in relationship to their peers–these were our experiences growing up and we don’t want these scores to interfere with our son’s development. One of the most exciting aspects of our son’s education is the Spanish immersion program that has cultivated his love for language and laid the foundation for him to communicate with many more people across cultures and around the world – and yet none of this will be measured by the MAP test.
Opting out is a difficult decision this year, because of the way the scores can be used for high-stakes decisions around funding. It deeply saddens us that policy makers would deny funding to a school for any reason, but particularly one so narrow and tangential to real learning. Our son has excellent teachers and we think there is no substitute for their assessment of his progress.
We are deeply committed to our school community and look forward to working with you on these issues in years to come.
Never in U.S. history have more students, parents, and teachers engaged in acts of resistance to standardized tests. During the 2015 testing season, over 620,000 public school students around the U.S. refused to take standardized exams, according to a report by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).
I wrote this essay for the National Education Association’s “Education Votes” blog to sum up the top five victories against against the “testocracy” and its test-and-punish model of education, accessible here: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2015/12/28/five-2015-victories-that-put-cracks-in-the-testocracy/
Please share the stories of our victories for a meaningful education–and join us in this uprising in 2016!
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, know as FairTest, just released its wonderful report on the immense growth around the country of the movement in opposition to the abuses of standardized testing. The victories included universities getting rid of their SAT/ACT requirement, states dropping the requirement for an exit exam to graduate from high school, and hundreds of thousands of families opting their children out of harmful high-stakes tests. As Fair Test revealed in a press release today,
Around the U.S., well over half a million public school students refused to take standardized exams during the 2015 testing season, according to a preliminary tally released today. The count by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a leader of the national assessment reform movement, is based on news reports and detailed surveys by local activists.
Among the largest state opt-out figures (with sources):
– 240,000 New York (news reports and New York State Allies for Public Education counts)
– 110,000+ New Jersey (Save Our Schools New Jersey)
– 100,000 Colorado (Chalkbeat Colorado and SEEK for Cherry Creek)
– 50,000+ Washington State (news reports)
– ~20,000 Oregon (news reports)
– ~20,000 Illinois (More Than a Score)
– 10,000 New Mexico (news reports)
– ? ? Other states not yet reporting
“The opt-out movement and other assessment reform initiatives exploded across the country this year as more parents said ‘enough is enough’ to high-stakes testing overkill,” explained FairTest Executive Director Monty Neill. “If anything, the estimate of half a million opt-outs in 2015 is low because many states have denied requests to make test refusal data public. This intense grassroots pressure is beginning to force policymakers to roll back standardized exam misuse and overuse.”
It’s hard to describe the elation I experienced as I read in the FairTest report about one victory after another for communities around the nation in the struggle to demand that education is more than a score.
Over the past several years I have been writing, speaking, organizing, and doing everything I could think of to demand that critical thinking and creativity be allowed back into our schools. Ever since my colleagues at Garfield High School boycotted the MAP test in 2013 and helped to inspire this uprising, much of my life has been given to this great struggle against the testocracy–and it is beyond words for me to see these standardizing despots now on the run as families around the nation stand up to defend their children and public education.
Best of all is the educated prediction that FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer made today: “In the 2016 testing season, we expect many more families to refuse to take part in unnecessary testing, which undermines educational quality and equity.”
Here now is the summary of the testing reform victories from 2015:
Testing Reform Victories 2015:
Growing Grassroots Movement Rolls Back Testing Overkill
By Lisa Guisbond with Monty Neill and Bob Schaeffer
The growing strength and sophistication of the U.S. testing resistance and reform movement began turning the tide against standardized exam overuse and misuse during the 2014-2015 school year. Assessment reformers scored significant wins in many states, thanks to intense pressure brought by unprecedented waves of opting out and other forms of political action. Even President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan, long advocates of test-and-punish ‘reform’ strategies, now concede that “there is too much testing.”
Across the country, educators, parents and students launched petitions, organized mass rallies and held public forums. High school students refused to take excessive exams and walked out. Teachers struck to demand (and win) testing reforms and better learning conditions. Administrators and elected school boards adopted strong resolutions against high-stakes testing. All this growth built on the successes of test reformers in previous years.
Parents and teachers who launched campaigns against standardized exam overkill in their schools and districts have emerged as effective leaders who continue to build a stronger movement. The mainstream media no longer ignores or marginalizes calls for “less testing, more learning” and “an end to high-stakes testing.” Instead, the assessment reform movement and the reasons behind it are consistently covered in depth by major newspapers, TV and radio outlets from coast to coast.
Public opinion shows a powerful shift against overreliance on test-and-punish policies and in favor of assessment reform based on multiple measures. Education policy makers and legislators have been forced to respond by at least publicly acknowledging the harms of high-stakes testing and the need for a course correction.
Cries of “enough is enough” were loud enough to penetrate the Oval Office, prompting President Obama to acknowledge in October that high-stakes exams are out of control in U.S. public schools. Activists, however, continue to push to ensure that vague rhetoric from the nation’s capital is followed by concrete changes in policy. The Obama administration has refused to end its test-and-punish policies, so Congress must act. Both houses have passed bills to end the mandates for test-based teacher evaluations and school and district sanctions.
Meanwhile, the movement has won concrete victories at the state and local level. These include repeal of exit exams in several states, elimination of many tests, reduction of testing time, a surge of colleges going test-optional, and development of alternative assessment and accountability systems. The past year’s victories include:
- A sharp reversal of the decades-long trend to adopt high school exit exams. Policy-makers repealed the California graduation test, while Texas loosened its requirements, joining six states that repealed or delayed these exams in the 2013-2014 school year. California, Georgia, South Carolina and Arizona also decided to grant diplomas retroactively to thousands of students denied them because of test scores.
- Florida suspended Jeb Bush’s 3rd grade reading test-based promotion policy. Oklahoma, New York, and North Carolina revised their test-based promotion policies, and New Mexico legislators blocked the governor’s effort to impose one.
- States and districts that rolled back mandated testing include Minnesota, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Maryland, Dallas and Lee County, Florida.
- Opting out surged to new levels in New York, New Jersey and across the country – approaching 500,000 nationally – riveting the attention of the media and pushing governors and legislatures to act.
- A series of opinion polls documented increasing numbers of voters and parents who agree there is too much standardized testing and it should not be used for high-stakes purposes.
- The past year was the best one on record for the test-optional college admissions movement, with three dozen more colleges and universities reducing or eliminating ACT/SAT requirements, driving the total to more than 850.
- In California, New Hampshire, and elsewhere there are promising efforts to develop alternative systems of assessment and accountability, deemphasizing standardized tests while incorporating multiple measures of school performance.
- The movement’s growth and accomplishments are tremendously encouraging. But it’s far too early to declare victory and go home. In the 2015-2016 school year, activists will use lessons learned from their initial battles to further expand and strengthen the resistance movement and ensure political leaders go beyond lip service to implement meaningful assessment reforms.
- The movement’s ultimate goal goes well beyond winning less testing, lower stakes and better assessments. It seeks a democratic transformation of public education from a system driven by a narrow “test-and-punish” agenda to one that meets the broad educational needs and goals of diverse students and families.
The full report is available at:
The “More Than a Score” Anthem: The new song that explains the book and the movement against high-stakes testing!
A few weeks ago, I spoke in New York City at the Progressive Educator Network’s national conference. There I joined a wonderful panel that highlighted resistance to standardized testing.
After the panel I got off of the stage and an educator approached me and introduced himself as Caselli Jordan, a kindergarten teacher and musician from Philadelphia. When I saw the look of excitement in his eyes I knew the middle seat, red-eye flight, from Seattle to New York City was worth the trip. Caselli told me that immediately after my presentation, a song jumped into his head and he had to run out to the hallway to write it down. He hummed a little of the hook and I smiled. I was hyped to hear my words had helped inspire a song. He said he was going to work on it more. I told him I would love to hear it. Then other educators and parents came around to further discuss building the authentic assessment movement and our conversation was cut short.
As I was leaving the conference, I remember thinking what a good idea it would be to have an anthem for our movement against high-stakes testing–but I wasn’t sure if I would really ever hear from Caselli again. Then a few days ago, he and his bandmate Sterling Duns, who make up the group City Love, sent me a link to their new single “More Than a Score.” In the e-mail Caselli wrote,
I wanted to get in touch with you because in the weeks after the PEN conference in Brooklyn my bandmate Sterling Duns and I came up with a song about standardized testing. I actually started hearing the chorus while you were speaking in the panel and had to get up to leave and go record it 🙂 And after I told Sterling your powerful hypothermia analogy, he put that in his verse. Thanks for all the inspiration and we hope the song can be useful to you.
This song is a wonderful gift to me as it explains many of the key themes in the book I edited, More Than a Score: The new uprising against high-stakes testing—including that we must opt out of standardized testing that has become a billion dollar industry, is destroying everything that is good in educating, and has contributed to the school-to-prison-pipeline. And if my first grade son’s reaction to the song is any indication, it’s an instant smash hit that will rouse the youth to action! He has the song on repeat. And that’s high praise because he has been very active in the movement that helped Seattle win more recess for students, so his favorite line in the single is, “Maybe instead of tests we could have a little recess? (I love recess!).”
Share this opt out movement anthem far and wide. Let’s bring down the testocracy with a chart topping song that helps people raise their voices to bring back art class and cancel the tests!
By City Love
This is a song inspired by, and in solidarity with the opt out movements throughout the country. It is inspired by the words of Seattle Map testing boycott organizer Jesse Hagopian at the Progressive Education Network Conference in October of 2015.
Politicians, corporations, Gates foundation love that testing. But they don’t want us passing. But they won’t send their kids there. They went to private school! Why you think that is?!
Closin schools but building prisons payin guards instead of teachers. now how they gonna reach us? prison guards instead of teachers. build a school to prison pipeline. What you think of that?
$33,000 yearly for a single inmate. That’s a private school tuition. But students don’t get half that. What we gonna do?
More than a score, so you know we gotta opt out. (x4)
Im feeling lifted
Why yall trippin
Looking at scores
Wont tell u this brothas gifted
Yall want more
Whats yall barometer
Giving poor kids more test
Is like giving atherometer
While they outside
In the cold,
This things getting old
Yall blue ribbon givings
We need yall folks to prod less
The progress is tied
To the human not, not the project
the testing is just stressing
the guys giving the test then
Chose the schools that let in
And then exempt
From doing the one thing
They want others to do
Now tell me is that cool?
Spendin 1.7 Billion dollars yearly on the testing. That’s a whole lotta dough. That’s a whole lotta dough man. Whatcha think of that?!?
Teachin to the test and takin tests takes a lotta time man. Time away from learning. What we gonna do?
Maybe instead of tests we could have a little recess? Have a little art class? What you think of that?!
More than a score, more than a score. So you know we gotta opt out. (4 times)
During the last days of the school year I wrote an essay for my website, I Am An Educator.com, about my kindergarten son opting out of the MAP test. I received an overwhelming number of positive responses to that piece, but none more powerful than from a mother from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kelly Pylkas-Bock expressed her appreciation for the story of my son opting out, and sent me a truly moving description of her son–and why he cannot be reduced to a score–that she intends to deliver to his councilor when he starts middle school next year. I asked if I could publish her letter to the councilor and she replied,
Thank you for your encouraging response, Jesse. I have already shared my letter with [my son] Zachary because, as early as kindergarten standardized tests impacted his school experience. Zachary, Joshua (his dad), and I have had many honest conversations about how he has gifts that could never be measured by a test. When I told him the story about your son and about your request to re-post my letter, I was excited. I was also very cautious because I wanted to give him the option to protect his tender, 11-year-old identity. I should not have been surprised when he stated, emphatically, that he wanted his name included in the re-post. He was proud, as am I, to be included in your opt-out movement. We would proudly support the re-posting of Zachary’s important letter to his future middle school counselor and hope it might empower parents and students to be as brave as Zachary has been.
In appreciation and humility,
Kelly and Zachary
I hope the letter below will inspire other parents to reflect on what makes their own children more than a score–and to write that description down to share with your school and with this website. Here then is Kelly’s correspondence with me, followed by most wonderful description of her son Zachary.
Your post resonated with me in many ways. The opt out movement has always been personal to me as a teacher of young children, but in 2010 when my oldest son, Zachary, became a first grader, I, like you, was faced with this decision. As a Humanist, I believe in the infinite potential of all children. This became (and will continue to be) a spiritual matter. Standardized testing contradicted my beliefs in many ways. I have been opting Zachary out of all standardized testing since 2009, including the MAP test. It is a decision that my husband and I have to wrestle with each year as Zachary gets older. We know the time may come when Zachary wants or needs to take a standardized test. He has always been included in the decision-making process. My profession as a second grade public school teacher places me in a contradictory position three times each year when I am mandated to proctor the MAP test for my young students. I see the destructive nature of standardized tests such as the MAP test. In my experience the MAP promotes a skewed and inflated view of development for parents and children. As you know, Jesse, it is difficult to be a teacher with the current educational atmosphere of standardization but, as you also know, it has been especially challenging to be a parent. I believed that instructional methods pursued by school districts as a result of standardized tests like the MAP could be harmful to Zachary. I, like you, could not let Zachary be a participant in the process.
I soulfully know this struggle.
I want to share a letter I wrote to Zachary’s future middle school counselor in hope that it might provide other parents with the words or ideas to continue this fight for their children.
Dear Middle School Counselor,
I am writing about Zachary, an incoming 6th grader. He has many talents that are not traditionally honored in school. Up to this point we have worked hard to be partners to his teachers. Zachary has had many outstanding teachers who worked hard to make his daily classroom experience match his gifts. Along with his teachers, we have tried to provide a supportive classroom environment where he has some opportunities to shine at school. This has helped maintain his emotional and intellectual investment throughout elementary school.
Zachary is a fantastic performer. He loves to be viewed as knowledgeable and capable. He has had these opportunities in elementary school during physical education, the school play and anytime he is asked to present information he is interested in. He feels great about himself and his learning when he is able to have these types of experiences.
Zachary is a fantastic language learner. When Zachary was in third grade my husband, Joshua and I (both elementary teachers), took teaching positions at an American School in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Zachary attended this school for nine months while we were teaching. He very quickly learned Portuguese through interactions with children. He has not had much opportunity to practice. I believe, with an excellent Spanish teacher, he will see his ability to learn languages as a gift he possesses. He also enjoys children who have experienced other cultures or who speak other languages. He would like to return to Brazil some day.
Zachary is highly motivated to learn about social justice issues that are occurring currently or have occurred in history. He loves learning about the Civil Rights Movement but also enjoys discussing current events. He is quick to recognize social injustices that can occur in school and makes attempts (sometimes misguided but always pure of heart) to correct them. When he is misguided, he is generally principled and takes responsibility for fixing his mistake. He really wants to understand the social issues going on around him.
Zachary is a hard worker. He will work hard to learn what is required of him. He will work the hardest in math, but he will need support. He does not have a positive self-image of himself as a mathematical thinker. Joshua and I are working on praising the effort he puts into learning. He regularly asked his 5th grade teacher to stay after school for help. In our family we teach that education is a human right, and if you don’t understand something, you have a right to attain that knowledge. However, it can only be yours if you seek it out. A teacher who doesn’t know that you are confused cannot help you. Zachary will not ask for help from an intimidating teacher.
Zachary is a deep processor. He needs time to think about things and his understanding of new concepts tends to develop over time. He needs many repetitions of new concepts before he can apply them independently. This is especially common in math. A common experience we have had with teachers who do not understand Zachary is that he will bring homework home from school that he does not understand because the concept was newly taught during class. This causes him a great deal of frustration and stress. In elementary school he has been very sensitive to how quickly other children understand a concept while he is still processing. We try to stress the importance and value of the hard work he puts into understanding things and not the speed. Our fear in sharing this is that it will be misunderstood as a deficit or delay in Zachary’s development. This is not the case. Zachary is well within the normal limits of child development. He always has been.
Zachary is the victim of an over-standardized and over-academicized curriculum that has pressured him to achieve academic concepts that are not appropriate using methods that are not often suitable for his learning style. Zachary had the misfortune of beginning his school career as the national and state educational agendas held a standardized approach to assessment in high-esteem, often relegating Zachary to tracking, or grouping, techniques that would easily deflate his developing self-image and motivation. For this reason, we have opted Zachary out of all standardized testing because we believe Zachary’s potential is limitless and cannot be condensed to a math and reading score. Any learning environment that stresses speed or quantity over quality will be a negative experience for Zachary.
Zachary lives a full life. He is busy after school with sports, friends and playing outside. Homework can be extremely stressful or overwhelming to him. I fear this could become a reason for Zachary to dis-invest in school. He does not view homework as contributing towards his learning. We, as his parents, agree that homework has not helped Zachary to learn responsibility or study habits. It has caused significant tension in our family. Zachary needs teachers who understand that children his age need balance between home and school.
Zachary is extremely imaginative and, consequently, a fantastic writer. He is a contextual learner, so writing provides him with a rich opportunity to understand a topic and analyze it from whole to part. Since first grade he has become an expert in many topics because he wrote about them. Zachary loves to write and read comics. Freedom to choose topics is motivating for him. The same is true for any reading he is asked to do. A teacher who is overly fixated on handwriting, spelling ability or punctuation will not help him grow as a writer or a reader. A teacher with a broad definition of reading and writing who provides meaningful choices will positively impact his growth as a reader and a writer.
Zachary deserves time to learn and mature at the pace his mind and body determine. Despite the impatient efforts of some adults to speed Zachary’s development, he has always learned at his own pace. He will be 12 in January. He will take time to mature and develop cognitively, but he always does. He can learn and there is nothing that impedes his learning except for his self-belief and his perceptions of the beliefs of those around him. He needs teachers who understand the development of children his age and have realistic expectations of them. He will get there in his own time. He just needs adults who convey their belief in him on a regular basis and especially when he is struggling to understand new concepts.
Thank you for taking the time to read about Zachary. We realize that educators are human beings and that there is no such thing as a perfect educational experience. We also know that Zachary, like all children, will struggle some, but hopefully, with our support, will also find reasons to shine at school.
Kelly is a mother to Zachary (11), Jackson (9) and Porter (1). She is married to Joshua Bock, a fellow second grade teacher. Kelly has been teaching elementary school since 1998. She has authored one book, Reading Superheroes, and just finished her doctorate in education this spring.
Her websites are: