Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Letter to Parents: The Truth About PSSA Testing

I received a letter from my son's school about the importance of upcoming PSSA testing. The tests will be spread out over a 17 day period, with a pep rally, quiz shows, a special party for students who achieve perfect attendance over the month of test prep and 4 weeks of testing, and a performance by a local entertainer. The letter says "the students know how important these tests are for their future." I decided to respond by writing a letter to parents to tell them the truth about high stakes testing.

Dear Parent,

I am writing to my express my concerns about the amount of instructional time that is spent on standardized testing. I realize that the ASD must comply with state and federal testing mandates, but according to a letter sent to parents, nearly 4 weeks (17 days) will be dedicated to PSSA testing, and another month focused on test preparation. In addition to this, several weeks of instructional time is spent on 4Sight testing, and benchmark assessments. And then there is time and money spent on gimmicks like a PSSA pep rally, assemblies, and treats tied to high stakes testing. Last year's PSSA Pep Rally cost the district close to 20k, and the expensive computer equipment streaming the event failed. Our principal has communicated to parents and students that the tests are very important for their future. I disagree, and here is why:

Research has shown that 10 years of testing under NCLB has failed to significantly increase academic performance. Projections of the percentage of schools in PA that will fail to meet the unrealistic goal of 100% proficient by 2014 is 77%. (Source: Most schools across the country will fail to reach this goal by 2014, around 82%, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. These schools and students will be labeled as failures. But Duncan's plans to reform NCLB include even more testing. (Race to the Top) High stakes testing and punitive accountability measures have demoralized both students and teachers. Curriculum has been narrowed to focus on limited skills measured by standardized tests.

Federal funding should not be tied to test scores. If all schools are required to meet the same standards, then all schools must be fully funded. School districts like the ASD which serve mostly poor children, are set up for failure under NCLB, since we don't have access to the same resources as the wealthier districts. Policy makers continue to ignore the the real cause of low student achievement- growing child poverty. Testing and standards do not address the effects of poverty on learning, or the funding inequities.

There is no evidence that high stakes testing benefits children, so parents and students should not be told that the testing is important for their future success. In fact, testing and a test driven curriculum encourages dropping out because it diminishes a child's joy of learning. The only people who benefit from high stakes testing are the testing and text book companies, like Pearson, who are making millions off of our children. 4Sight testing is unreliable, and some studies show that the 4Sights don't even align with the state standards. Some districts have dropped the 4Sights.The "value added" data obtained by interim testing has a very high margin of error. Yet this unreliable data is used to place students, and in some states, is now tied to teacher performance (conditions of Race to the Top). 4Sight info:

NCLB has been a failure on many levels. Education experts and scholars have done studies, and their findings are documented here at this important website:
under the heading "NCLB's Lost Decade for Educational Progress." This report is easy to read. I support public schools, and public school teachers, but I will not support high stakes testing. It goes against everything I know about child development. Parents do have the right to opt their child out of state testing See: A massive opt out would be a way to finally end this testing charade because it would take away the "data" that is being used to punish students and teachers, and ultimately destroy public education. Parents need to know this information. Learning is not a race with winners and losers, it's a journey. We need to take back our schools, and provide equal opportunities for all students. Children are more than test scores. Parents can write to President Obama, and our State Representatives. I have done that, and I have joined the national group "Parents Across America." We can fight to get the laws changed, and to include teachers in policy making instead of CEOs, billionaires, and politicians. If parents would like to join me in starting a group to act on this important issue, please contact me.

Angie Villa


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you, Angie! And, I have read and support the research that documents and supports your position.

There is no way, a poverty stricken school district, such as Allentown, and other inner-city school districts can flourish under these guidelines. The test results give money to the better performing school districts, when just the opposite should happen. We need to fund public education and make it fair and equitable for everyone.

In elementary school, my children were only taught 2 things, English and math. There was a little science thrown in, a few hours worth. My children know nothing about history. They have atrocious handwriting. And, the arts have been so drastically cut, it's a sin. My son will receive 9 hours of gym, 9 hours of art, 9 of music and 9 times he can go to the library this school year.

I believe that testing over a 2 day period is sufficient. There is a way to make such a test valid and reliable. Here's an example. Years ago, a new nurse would take a written test all day for 4 straight days to become a licensed registered nurse. Now, you sit at a computer and most times it takes an hour, sometimes two. Most professional licenses have a similar procedure. Does this mean that a nurse today is more unsafe than a nurse who sat through 4 days of testing 30 years ago? Absolutely not!

You would think that these test makers would write something that is valid, reliable and does not take 1 month!!!

Way to go Angie!

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks for commenting. I knew when my son entered Kindergarten and was completing worksheet after worksheet that something was very wrong. I was shocked at how NCLB had changed our schools. When I taught, pre-NCLB, teachers collaborated with each other to integrate the curriculum, which was always developmentally appropriate. Children learned to make connections across different subject areas. Now, science and social studies is rarely on the daily schedule. Spelling is not even taught. My son is just learning cursive in 5th grade.

We really must take our schools back so teachers can teach creatively. Teachers know their students' strengths and weaknesses because they are trained to do formative and authentic assessments. All this testing is completely useless, and a huge waste of time and money. Tests should be used for diagnostic purposes. And testing kids in Kindergarten is not developmentally appropriate. Those dumb DIBELS have got to go to. 5 year olds should be playing, painting, play acting, singing- not completing worksheets and tests. Everything kids do at school is tied to the dumb test or benchmark.

Tim Slekar said...


Here is a link to my blog that explains the opt out process in PA.


Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks Tim. Many parents had no idea they could opt out of testing. They are kept in the dark about so much, it is really important to get information out there. Our PTA is not doing it. National PTA supports testing and Race to the Top, and receives funding from The Gates Foundation.

Mrs. Dottie said...

I was just looking at some beautiful school work my son did when he was in 2nd grade. His handwriting is neat and nice, words are all spelled correctly, and there is a creative drawing with his writing. After 2nd grade, there is a noticeable sloppiness to his handwriting, words are misspelled, his writing is not edited. Why does his 2nd grade work look nicer than his 5th grade work? Maybe the fact that testing starts in 3rd grade has something to do with it? Constant testing and test prep have resulted in a regression of fine motor skills, as well as critical thinking skills. I have noticed some 4th graders cannot even draw a straight line, some have trouble even holding a pencil correctly.