Some 6,000 high school seniors in Washington are at risk of not graduating because they haven’t passed one of the myriad of high-stakes tests, including the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Common Core aligned language arts and math exams, as well as a biology end-of-course exam. These students could have met all the other requirements, excelled social and academically in school, and yet be denied a diploma from a test-and-punish political system that is completely out of control.
However, because of the massive uprising of the opt-out movement in Seattle, Washington State, and around the country, politicians are being forced to reconsider the testing graduation requirements. There are currently two bills in the Washington State legislature that could help alleviate the pain.
House Bill 1046 would complete eliminate the requirement to pass any of the high-stakes exit exams for graduation. Proponents of corporate education reform, such as Stand for Children and the Business Roundtable, opposed the House bill and the Senate then drafted Bill 5891, which would only eliminate the biology end-of-course exam as a requirement for graduation—until the year 2021.
On Thursday, the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, announced he is asking the legislature to reach a compromise that would suspend all of the graduation test requirements until 2019. Then students who don’t pass one of the exams would have six alternative ways to graduate, including reaching a minimum score on college-entrance exams or taking a college-level course.
Let’s be clear: Requiring exit exams to graduate has nothing to with what expert educators know about best practices for assessing students. In fact, 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.
Let’s be clear about another thing: none of these proposals to lessen the cruelty of the testocracy would have been possible without rebellion from parents, students, educators, and community members who have demanded an end to over-testing. From the student walkouts of high-stakes tests, to the teacher boycotts, to the parent opt-outs, it has been the grassroots struggle that has proven most important in changing the narrative about abuses of standardized testing and the authentic assessment alternative.
One of the champions of this movement is Rita Green, the NAACP Education Chair for Seattle (and a three state region). Below is the testimony she gave before the Washington State Legislature on March 20, 2017 to demand they stop using high-stakes exams as graduation requirements. Read her story and then contact a Washington State Legislator to let them know our children are more than a score.
Hi my name is Rita Green, I am the Education Chair for the NAACP, representing the State of Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
I am here today to speak in support of removing and delinking the passage of SBAC as a graduation requirement.
First, These exam do not show, prove or measure the entire character or capabilities of students. These exams do not measure discrepancies for the students whose families pay for test prep classes to artificially drive up their test scores. [These tests measure]:
1) Working memory-how well your child can hold information in their mind & execute upon it.
2) Processing speed-how quickly your child can solve problems
3) Nonverbal reasoning- how well your child can solve problems for which they received no previous education all 3 of these are universal skills.
4) What is measured in these exams are verbal comprehension skills. This measures the cultural knowledge – words, Ideas and concepts that white people use. These are foreign to people of color because they have nothing to do with their experience and thereby makes these exams discriminatory.
Proficiency can be measured through Course Finals, and demonstration.
Second, my daughter Brittany never passed the Math [standardized test] WASL, because she missed a passing score by 6 points. In 2009 she graduated from High School. In 2013, Brittany graduated from Lincoln University with a BS in Criminal Justice and a Law Certificate. She worked one year for City Year at a school in Baton Rouge, LA. In 2014, she went back to school and graduated in 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Justice and Security Administration. Brittany plans to go back to school to get a PHD in 2018. This is a student who would not have graduated under the current WA State Graduation requirements.
How many other Brittany’s could our current law potentially hurt, harm or hinder?
And see the video of the powerful discussion that followed the presentation:
10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test for Your Child: Maryland parent on opting out of high-stakes testing
TakePart.com ran an article by Joseph Williams this week titled, “Boycotters Might Be Winning the Battle Over Standardized Testing.” In that article he writes:
“In districts across the nation, from Florida to Alaska, the grassroots push for a rollback in high-stakes testing has gained momentum, and a broad coalition of parents, teachers, and advocates are poised to take advantage, even if it means an end to federal grants in tight fiscal times.”
He can now add Maryland to his list.
My good friend Michele Bollinger just sent me a copy of a statement to publish (see below) of her intention to respect her daughter’s wishes not to take the new Common Core high-stakes test—and why other parents should join this opt-out movement. Michele is a teacher in Washington, D.C. and was my mentor to becoming a social justice educator when I first began my teaching career in that city. Michele is also the editor of the young adult textbook, 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed US History.
Here now is Michele’s statement and ten reasons parents should join this growing opt-out movement:
As a parent and educator, I cannot stay silent as PARCC testing begins around the country. After much discussion within our family, our 5th grader has decided to decline the PARCC exam. We agree with her and have expressed our refusal to consent to testing to her school. Here are some of the reasons why.
It is easy to feel alone in this, but people are standing up to high stakes testing all around the country right now. If any Maryland residents, especially those in Montgomery County, Maryland are interested in declining the PARCC exam, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 Reasons to Refuse the PARCC Test
for Your Child in Maryland
1. High-stakes standardized testing takes an emotional toll on students.
- The PARCC is unlike any test you took as a child. It is unprecedented in its level of standardization and in the punitive measures attached to testing performance
- The PARCC is a timed exam and unfamiliar to students in form and content
- The stress of high-stakes test taking produces anxiety and is even more challenging for students who already experience anxiety
- The testing environment can be oppressive, as students movements and behavior are heavily monitored
2. The PARCC test drives the standardization of learning.
- The Common Core State Standards, which support the PARCC, have narrowed state curriculum to fit the demands of the test
- Untested subjects are deprioritized or dropped altogether
- This unprecedented level of standardization cannot accommodate student differences in need, ability and interests
3. Test prep means less quality instructional time in schools.
- PARCC is longer than previously administered tests
- PARCC means more testing beginning at younger ages
- Schools now commonly refer to a “testing season” that lasts from March until June
4. The PARCC test is a fundamentally flawed assessment.
- There is no evidence that PARCC prepares students for college or careers
- PARCC is developmentally inappropriate for students at all grade levels
- Not enough sample tests, practice tests, or exemplars have been released
- The expectation that many or most students will perform poorly on the test is public knowledge
- Because Maryland students are already tested and assessed throughout the school year, the PARCC is unnecessary
5. Schools around the state of Maryland are unprepared to take a high stakes exam.
- Never before have so many students taken an online exam simultaneously
- Districts have continually reported schools’ IT infrastructure cannot support PARCC administration
- The rush to implement the PARCC does not make sense for our schools
6. PARCC is a cash cow for testing companies such as Pearson, Inc.
- Technology and testing companies – not educators – have funded and organized the rush to develop and implement the Common Core and PARCC
- States have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Common Core and PARCC
- In Maryland, combined costs for Math & English/Language Arts tests are as high as $61.24 per student
- Pearson is a private company which will have access to student data with very little oversight. Pearson may sell personal data related to individual children who have taken the PARCC
7. School districts have been bullied into accepting PARCC and the Common Core – and residents have been failed by their elected leaders who signed on to it.
- When Chicago Public Schools announced they could not and would not administer PARCC this year, they were threatened with losing up to $1 billion in funding
- Schools and school districts across the country have been forced to comply with federal and state mandates around PARCC or risk lose millions of dollars in funding
- Maryland policy makers have endorsed Common Core and PARCC without diligently investigating what is at stake and without asking the right questions
- We will call their bluff – we will not allow our children’s schools to be held hostage to bad educational policy
8. PARCC test scores will be used to justify punitive measures.
- Per “No Child Left Behind” and other school reform measures, test scores are used to fire teachers, hold students back and close down schools
- These actions are disruptive and are unsettling to the communities that have to endure them
- These measures disproportionately impact under-resourced communities and students of color
9. There is no legal way for school administrators to force your child to take a test she or he does not want to take.
- The official position of the state Department of Education is that there is no “opt out” provision for testing in Maryland
- There is no legal precedent for forcing a student to take a standardized test
- Maryland students and parents can opt-out, refuse, or decline to take the test just as families can in other states
- National “messaging” around the Common Core and PARCC has been carefully crafted to conceal problems and to appeal to parents and teachers
- Schools present a favorable view of the PARCC and their ability to carry out testing because of a lack of political leadership from the state
- All parents should be informed of the detriments of standardized testing
- Your child cannot be punished, failed, or held back for refusing this test
10. Now is the time!
- More people are questioning PARCC than ever before – teachers, students and parents around the country have begun to speak out against high stakes testing
- Boycotts and other actions against high stakes testing have galvanized communities to fight for justice in education
- Given the large number of problems with the test, many schools will not be held accountable based on test results this year. This is a lower-stakes opportunity to boycott the test and to build momentum for bigger boycotts to stop the damaging “accountability” provisions in the years to come
- If your child is “fine” taking tests and you can supplement your child’s test-driven curriculum with enriching experiences outside of school, the same cannot be said for everyone
- Even if your school tends to meet AYP or other defined goals, the same cannot be said for all schools – especially those in under-resourced areas and disproportionately those populated by students of color
We need to stand up for all children who are experiencing an unprecedented transformation of the learning experience via the expansion of high stakes testing.
PLEASE check out:
“It’s about watching kids cry. And throw chairs. And pee their pants. And scratch their face until it turns red or they bleed. That’s what it’s about. That’s all that it’s about.”
Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones teach first grade at Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma—and they are refusing to trade in their job titles for “test prep tutor.” Declaring that they will refuse to administer a battery of tests (including the infamous MAP test, the same test I helped to organize a boycott against in Seattle), these educators have become the most recent test-defyers in a growing movement of conscientious objectors to standardized tests.
The “testocracy” is determined to reduce the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single score that they can use to deny students promotion, destabilize the teaching profession, label schools as failing, and turn them into privatized charter schools. Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones were quickly threatened with disciplinary measures by their Superintendent. If you have a message of solidarity for them, please send it to me and I will pass it on to them.
The brave actions of Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones are sure to inspire other educators around the nation who believe that education has to be about more than eliminating wrong answer choices. The civil rights movement to reclaim and redefine education has only just begun.
Below is the letter they sent home to families explaining why they refuse to administer these exams.
To the Families of the Children in our Classrooms,
First of all, we want to thank you for the opportunity to work with your children. We understand that it is difficult to drop your most precious belongings off in the hands of someone else. We understand that you are trusting us to use the best practices in teaching in order to ensure the most success for your child. Our number one goal in teaching is to keep the best interest of your child at the heart of all we do. We hope our passion, education, and dedication is evident daily.
Quickly, we want to take a moment and talk about ourselves. While we don’t want our bios to be the focus, we do want our parents and the community to have an understanding of our behind- the-scenes work and passion that we put into our jobs. We want you to know about our accomplishments, research, and experiences in order for you to have an understanding of our background and professionalism.
My name is Karen Hendren and I am currently a 1st grade teacher at Skelly Elementary. I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Elementary Education. I have teaching experience at Educare, Sand Springs Early Childhood Center, and overseas at Feltwell Elementary in England on the military base. I was assigned the Lead teacher position for First Grade. The District has entrusted me to teach Professional Development over both Reading and Math. My evaluations have always shown me to be an effective teacher.
My name is Nikki Jones and I am also a first grade teacher at Skelly Elementary. In addition to first grade, I have taught Pre-K and K for the district. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Recently, I was recognized on the cover of NAEYC’s magazine, The Young Child, as the feature teacher. Last spring, I was utilized by TPS as a model for Early Childhood in an NPR story airing over Tulsa success in implementing Early Childhood Programs. Most recently, I received the national award for Outstanding Classroom Practitioner by the organization, NAECTE, and Cengage Publishing. I serve as the State Rep for UOO as an advocate for children and their families in diminishing the High Stakes Testing monster. All of my evaluations have shown me to be an effective teacher. Both Karen and I continually pursue knowledge and understanding and have been trusted by the district to lead and represent multiple aspects of Early Childhood Education throughout our years of service.
Unfortunately, in the recent years, the mandates have gradually squelched the creativity and learning from our classrooms. The problem is that we are having to spend WAY too much time on formal assessments. All of the testing is required and some of it is classified as High Stakes Testing (HST). A high-stakes test is any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers). (Glossary of Education Reform, 2014)
This year, in first grade, your child is being asked to participate in the following assessments:
Literacy First Assessment: This takes anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour per student to administer. This is a one-on-one assessment that is to be conducted quarterly or more for progress monitoring.
“Where to Start Word List”: This assessment correlating to the F&P screening. The purpose of this screening is to level each child and ensure they are given reading instruction on their level. After going through the word lists, then the child is screened using a book on the assigned level. This assessment is done quarterly or as needed to progress monitor. It takes 20-30 minutes per child is also a one-on-one assessment.
Eureka Math: Children are to be given a whole group, 60 minute math lesson that has an “exit ticket” assessment at the end of each lesson. Yes, they want first graders testing daily over the lessons. This exit ticket is not long, but it still takes time. It equilibrates to daily testing for 6 and 7 year old children. This math curriculum also had a mid-module assessment and end of unit assessment.
iRead: iRead is a software program that the district requires children to be on for 20 minutes a day. It comes with an abundance of software issues and frustrations. The district has been working diligently on trying to get this programming to run successfully, but so far, to no avail. Part of this computer based program is a literacy screener. This screening takes place at the beginning of the year, and last 30-45 minutes per child.
MAP: Map is a computer based test that was designed as a tool for progress monitoring students in both math and literacy. This is the High Stakes Test that the district also utilizes for our teacher evaluations. It is completely developmentally inappropriate and does not provide valid data in the early childhood domain.
All of these tests, plus assessments that we utilize to document their understanding of certain content, are going on in your child’s first grade classroom. I believe you are getting the point… assessments, assessments, assessments! In our classrooms the children spend, on average, 1,510 minutes (25 hours) completing assessments. 720 minutes of those assessments are one-on-one. That means that we are tied up assessing students for at least 17, 280 minutes a school year. Your children are losing 288 hours of time with their teacher because of mandated testing. When you break down our days and count for specials, lunch, and recess, we end up with about 4 hours of instruction time. So, 288 instructional hours, or 72 days… yes, 72 days of our school year we, as teachers, are tied up assessing students with the mandated assessments. Why are our schools failing? Why are children not learning how to read? We think the numbers above answer those questions.
We understand the need for assessments. We want to progress monitor our students in order to meet their differentiated teaching needs. We value data. However, we went to college for an understanding on how to do this. We both build in-depth, all-encompassing portfolios that are a TRUE picture of the growth of our students. These portfolios do not just show math and literacy, they also show growth in cognitive development, writing, understandings of every state standard, art, identity of self, science, social studies, social-emotional development, and more. We do these portfolios so that we can have an accurate measure of each child across every domain. We have authentic assessments, off-the-shelf scholarly assessments, summative assessments, and formative assessments; all of which are paired with some sort of work sample or media documentation. Believe us, we know where our students are.
We want to share with you 4 experiences of children in our classroom during the implementation of MAP testing. The names and descriptions of these children have been changed to uphold their rights to privacy. They will all be referred to in the masculine form, but not necessarily male. The reference is strictly utilized for the flow of speech.
Student 1: This is one of the sweetest students a teacher could ask for. This student is gentle, calm, and collected. This student is learning English, but does not yet have any academic English. The student sat in front of the computer screen and tried his very best. We watched his eyes well up with tears. We watched the student nervously pull at his hair. Eventually, the student scratched red marks down his face in distress over the test. He is the oldest of the siblings. He can cook, clean, and take care of a baby better than some adults. The student knows all of his alphabet and the letter sounds in English now. This student loves writing books and can dance like no other. He is now comfortable enough to get up in front of the class and perform a talent or recite a poem. This student scored in the 1% range.
Student 2: This student has special needs and should be allowed accommodations. He looked around the room and noticed everyone clicking away even though he was still on question 6. He raised his hand and said “Why am I counting apples and he has math with lots of numbers?” He then stood up and threw his chair. I have NEVER seen this child upset to a point of acting out in this manner. This student likes Minecraft because he loves to build and is a problem solver. This student can tell you descriptive details about all characters in a story. His comprehension is far above grade level. If I give him a project over something of interest, he produces the work and utilizes problem solving skills across all content areas. He can fold paper into anything. This student scored in the 1% range.
Student 3: This student struggles with confidence in himself and because of this, is a pleaser. This student is smart; but, the test is smarter. The test is designed to adjust with the learner to meet their zone of proximal development (ZPD). However, it increasingly gets harder and harder until eventually, the student cannot answer the questions. The test is designed to reach a failing point for each child. This particular student quickly noticed that each question he answered correctly generated a more challenging question. Once out of his ZPD, the student laid his/her head down in tears and clicked through the test randomly selecting an answer, then clicking the arrow to proceed. We are talking about a student that is funny and happy. He can tell us jokes all day long. He takes care of the classroom and is in tune with peoples feelings. This student knows when he is respected and when he is not. He loves having his own personal whiteboard. He writes on it almost all day long. In doing so, he recently took what we had taught him about numbers and addition and figured out multiplication all on his own. He constructed his own knowledge of numbers to go beyond the standards. He is wise beyond his years. I believe he scored in the 11% range.
Student 4: This is a child that could be considered gifted and talented. He is reading above grade level. He does not care about a test on the computer screen. He is six years old. Ask him about nocturnal animals. Ask him about the elements in the Earth. Ask him about outer space. Ask him about anything interesting to him. Do not grade him on one test. Do not track him on one test. He takes care of all the pets in our classroom. (Rat, birds, turtle, and fish) He researches their needs and meets them on a daily basis. He teaches other students about how to care for them. He can teach over us in the content of certain animals, no doubt. He scored in the teens percentile range.
Over 85% of our students failed the MAP test. We had to meet with most of you to discuss your child’s “at risk” path and the retention they will face in third grade if they do not begin to show higher test scores. Was that a constructive meeting? No. Here is why we feel that way. The data is not valid in an early childhood setting, especially with the demographics of our community school. The test is 55 questions long in both math and reading. Our state and district want your child to be able to sit through a 55 question test that is designed to be frustrating. They make no accommodations for language or IEP’s. How can they say the data is valid when they are not even tested in the language they speak? How can they say the data is valid when they ignore what the research says about early childhood developmental capabilities? Is the data provided from MAP ever going to surpass the data that we collect, as the professionals, in our classrooms? Should we allow a child to scratch their face, throw a chair, pee their pants, lay their heads down in defeat… all over taking a test that is designed to make them fail? Nobody feels successful after taking this test because of the nature of it. Should the results of that test be an evaluating measure for how effective we are as teachers?
Then, there are the student surveys we recently were told to administer. We switched classrooms with each other and spent 2 and 1/2 hours proctoring student surveys. That looks like reading every single question aloud to every single student and instructing them on to complete a bubble sheet. There are SEVERAL questions that are unreasonable and irrational. One of the student survey questions that really got to me was “are you sleepy at school”. Yes, some of our students have erratic home lives. It’s not your fault, as parents. We are all doing the best we can do. But, life happens and sometimes children come to school after a rough night and are sleepy. The children have no time for daily naps or opportunities to rest and their bodies are growing and tired. So, what are the supposed implications of this question about being tired? Then, the surveys have an entire back page that appears to be for data collection purposes only and violates the privacy of your family.
Parents, you deserve a say in whether or not your children take the surveys. Well, its actually your right as a parent under HB 1384 and COPPA. The surveys are disrespectful to the student- teacher relationship. We don’t want our students to question our relationship or dedication to them. Putting them on the grading side does just that. It trivializes our interactions into three narrow categories: yes, no, and sometimes. How did that child feel right then in the moment? That’s what those are taking a gauge of. A “precise estimate” in the words of MAP testing. Well, a precise estimate doesn’t carry much clout with us. We know extensively what happens in our rooms, and we trust our administrators (the ones who hired us) to do the job they are trained to do and tell us if we are doing well or not. Why doesn’t the system trust the administrators? Why are we doing Student Surveys in 1st grade? Why do we feel these surveys are valid and not a complete waste of time with negative implications on the teacher-child relationship? Why are parents not informed of the private questions their child will be asked to answer?
We have so many unanswered questions about WHY we are forced to utilize MAP and Student Surveys. Last week, in search of some clarification, we submitted a letter to Dr. Ballard. He never responded personally; but, we do appreciate that he sent someone to meet with us about our concerns. However, the resolution was that we really work together to study MAP deeper. The suggestion was that we teach the test to the students. The advice was that in order to make the test less stressful for the students, we should run them through practice tests and mini computer based MAP lessons that will aid them in being more successful in taking the MAP. We are not sure how in doing so we would have a true picture of the students growth. But, moving on, basically, the districts answer was to take away more high-level learning experience and replace us, the professionals, with a computer program. The district did not address our concerns with the surveys at all.
So, families, here we are. We want you to know that we whole-heartedly love your children. We value and respect them. Your children are more than a number to us. They deserve more time in a rich learning environment, interacting with others, and growing deeper across academic and developmental domains. They do not deserve to be plugged into computers like robots.
We, in keeping with best practices, are unable to administer the MAP and student surveys to your children. They simply deserve a better educational experience than what either of those elements bring to the table. We informed the district of our decision last week. However, we felt like you had the right to know as well.
Education is about finding the deeper meaning. Education is about acting upon curiosity and utilizing creative attributes to figure something out. Education is about highlighting multiple intelligences and valuing uniqueness. Education is not squelching. Education is not standardization. We realize that we are just two teachers in a sea of many. In being conscientious objectors to these two items, we realize we are a number, just like the students in our classroom where the SDE is concerned. We realize that we are jeopardizing our jobs. But, if keeping our jobs means harming children and squelching them during a prime developmental span, then we want no part. When we walked across the stage and accepted our diplomas, when we received certifications from the state to teach, when we signed contracts with TPS, when we represented the model for early childhood education for the nation, when we accepted awards and recognition, we simultaneously accepted responsibility to uphold ethical practices and do what is in the best interest of children. The SDE has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.
Thank you for the opportunity to work with your children. Thank you for trusting us and valuing us a professionals. This is about what is in the best interest of the child. When education steps away from the child, all purpose is lost. It saddens us to put these experiences into words. It is with a heavy heart that we address our families in this way. However, we are hopeful that the district will understand the concerns and look at the research on standardized, high stakes testing in early childhood. We are hopeful that the district will stand with us in doing what is best for your children.
Miss Karen Hendren
Mrs. Nikki Jones