Saturday, January 18, 2014

It's Testing Season: Be a No-Show and Opt Out!

Testing "season" is gearing up and your student's school newsletters will start to fill with messages about making sure children get a full night's sleep, having them eat regular healthy meals, and supporting them with encouragement to do their best.

However, a better approach to helping your child do their best, might be to not allow them to take the test at all.  This practice is called "opting out" of testing, and it is a trend more and more parents are following in order to protect their child from the negative effects of high-stakes standardized testing to include student anxiety.

You may be thinking, "It is just a test, no big deal," but in reality, these tests carry a lot of weight, value, and ramifications that go beyond being "just a test." These tests, in Oregon it is the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) and soon to be Smarter Balanced (SBAC) to test Common Core State Standards, are the key to the success of the corporate education reform model which seeks to run public schools more like a business with competition as a foundation to making schools better rather than seeing schools funded equitably and valued as a public service for the common good.

More specifically, these tests need to be recognized for what they really are: "high-stakes" tests.

With high-stakes tests, students, schools, and teachers are measured and ranked based primarily on the results of these tests.  As a result:

  • those schools who shows the best results are rewarded
  • the lowest resulting schools are invaded by coaches and experts to analyze what seemingly went wrong
  • students who don't meet lose out on electives and programs in order to be assigned more remedial classes
  • students are often subjected to test prep during their instructional time
  • teachers fear poor evaluations as their jobs get tied to test scores
  • under the Oregon NCLB Waiver model, there will always be 15 percent of our schools in priority status--a label a school is stuck with for four years despite improvement--and if no improvement is shown these schools can go into "receivership" or run by a for-profit company
  • High-stakes testing and the data it provides drives everything
  • Many students experience high-levels of stress
  • High stakes tests cost millions of dollars
    And your child is lost in the data.

Furthermore, testing companies, most notably, Pearson Inc., creates tests that no one can really question.  In Oregon, teachers cannot discuss the test items or concerns about the validity of such items, or else they run the risk of losing their teaching license.  So who has the control? The testing companies--who seek profit.   And they want students, schools, and teachers to struggle so they can validate the message that schools are "failing" and then turn around and feed states and school districts their curriculum and test prep materials to help fix things--with your tax dollars.  Students swim in large class sizes. Students have lost valuable and enriching programs.  Students have lost school days.  Teachers have lost autonomy in the classroom.  Teachers have lost retirement funding.  Teachers have lost time to teach.  Why?  To make room for the testing and data is provides--for the companies that seek to profit with the wares they are peddling.

So, how do parents know our kids are successful without these tests? Authentic work samples assessess by professional teachers are great.  Discussion with teachers are valued.  The words and moods of our children are meaningful. Visiting our schools tell us a lot too.

But what do these high-stakes tests really tell you as a parent? Not much.  They are a snapshot of a moment in time over random questions designed by a testing company.  If we must have tests as some kind of measure, they should be a small part of a whole picture designed by teachers. However,  under our current model, these high-stakes tests are THE only part of the picture that counts.

Our children are more than that. Our teachers and students can tell us more than any standardized test.  In order to help our kids and teachers, parents can question and challenge this model.  Opting our children out of this testing process is the first step.

Be a "no-show" this testing season.  In doing so, you starve the profiteers and corporate education reformers from the data they need to survive.  They survive at the expense of our much-loved and valued neighborhood public schools.

For more information on how to opt out, check out our updated Opt Out tab on our web page.

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