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: http://www.fairtest.org/) 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: http://articles.mcall.com/2011-10-02/news/mc-pa-4sight-pssa-tests-20111002_1_pssa-performance-4sight-study-island
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: http://www.fairtest.org/
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: http://unitedoptout.com/ 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.