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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not Just Field Tests: Across U.S., Parents Mobilizing Against Test Mania

Ed Notes reports that Parents are mobilizing here in New York, on June 7, 11 A.M. in a Field Trip against the Field Tests, outside Pearson Headquarters, at 1330 6th Avenue. Parents are rebelling, across the U.S. against the deformers' tests; and they're making news. Round-up from FairTest, Huffington Post, New York Times SchoolBook:
From FairTest: "Testing Protests Expand Across the Nation" From Boston to Florida to Oakland:
Protests against high-stakes exams surged across the country this spring as grassroots groups in a dozen states staged events to voice their opposition to the increased use and misuse of standardized testing in public education. Ranging from small local gatherings to statewide rallies, the events were united by their denunciations of reliance on standardized test scores to determine whether students will be promoted to the next grade or receive a high-school diploma.
Parental resistance has grown steadily in response to high-stakes testing policies. More than 20 states now require students to pass an exit exam to receive a high school diploma. Several more will soon impose such requirements, though some other states are now retreating from such mandates (see story p.7). Organizers of at least a dozen events collaborated through the Assessment Reform Network (ARN), a project based at FairTest. ARN now supplies technical assistance and other resources to over 30 state and local organizations across the country that work to improve assessment and accountability practices.

 Rallies and Marches

• More than 1500 people, from both cities and suburbs, converged in a statewide demonstration in Albany, New York, on May 8 to oppose the state's use of the Regents exams to determine high school graduation and the growing power of state tests to undermine teaching and learning.

 • A May 5 rally in Los Angeles, California, drew 300 people. The Coalition for Education Justice, which organized the event, urged city and state educational officials to protect students from "racist and class-biased high-stakes testing."

 • Also on May 5, in Detroit, Michigan, the first rally sponsored by FREE, a coalition of parents, students, teachers and university professors, drew about 75 to call on the state legislature to "get rid of the MEAP," the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests.

 • Rallies were held at opposite ends of Massachusetts. A hundred protesters attended a May 8 demonstration in Northampton, while 300 gathered on the Boston Common on May 15 at a rally initiated by the Students Coalition for Alternatives to the MCAS (SCAM) and sponsored by the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE) and other organizations.

 • Arizona activists have been staging a series of smaller events, such as marches in Tempe in April carrying signs and letters addressed to state legislators, pickets at busy street intersections in Tucson, and leafleting at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Phoenix. Arizona officials have already backed off from this year's graduation test requirements.

 • Other rallies were held in Austin, Texas; Olympia, Washington; and Columbus, Ohio.

 Test boycotts

• Schools in dozens of California communities had low test participation as students and parents refused to take annual Stanford-9 state tests. These included 600 students at two high schools in wealthy Marin County, and dozens in largely low-income Oakland. Opting out of the tests is legal and has become common across California. Press reports said up to 90% opted out at some schools

 • Close to 100 eighth and tenth grade students in Massachusetts protested the April test outside their schools, refused to answer the essay prompt on the test, or wrote their own essay on the exam explaining their opposition to the test. In May, when testing resumed, boycotts continued across the state. Though grade 10 students will have to pass the test to graduate (barring changes in policy), dozens of tenth graders boycotted. Hundreds of students in earlier grades in towns and cities across the state also refused to take the test.

 • Nearly 200 middle grade parents in the affluent New York suburb of Scarsdale kept their children home on test day. Unusually, this boycott had the open support of the school system. Students in Rochester and Ithaca also refused the exams.

 • In Washington state, about seventy high school families in the Vancouver area announced they would refuse to have the test administered to their children, using an "opt out" procedure allowed by state law. Students in other locales across the state also opted out.

 • Wearing white shirts, jeans and badges bearing student identification numbers, about half of the students at Boulder Colorado's New Vista High School protested the first day of the Colorado Students Assessment Program tests (CSAP) in February, chanting "standardized tests produce standardized students."

 • Across the nation, several teachers refused to administer standardized tests. Teach-ins • Ad-hoc parent and teacher groups organized teach-ins in Sacramento, California, and Portland, Maine, to raise awareness about the harms of high-stakes standardized testing.

 • In Virginia, parents conducted a variety of events in local neighborhoods across the state. At one local library, parents invited families to read and discuss children's books written about standardized tests.

 • At a student-organized citywide conference in Boston, Massachusetts, participants in the Teen Empowerment program used music, skits, poems and stories to voice their views on the MCAS while urging state leaders to listen to the experiences youth have with the tests.

 • A student-moderated forum at a high school in Panama City, Florida, screened a student-created TV advertisement and discussed the problems associated with use of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to grade and rank schools.

 Next Steps

The visible rallies and boycotts are the tip of an "iceberg" of growing opposition to the misuse and overuse of flawed standardized tests. From small events in small towns to larger events in cities, the protesters represent the public face of many thousands of parents, students, teachers and others who are meeting, talking, petitioning and organizing to stop high-stakes testing. Many of the organizations which sponsored rallies, boycotts and other events will continue to share experiences, research and information through the ARN, which connects groups through a national web site, email discussion groups, conferences and other activities.

Contact information from organizers of the events, sample flyers and press releases can be found under "What's New" or the ARN page at, along with information about the ARN and participating organizations.
From Huffington Post: Public School Standardized Testing: Enough Is Enough for New York State Kids Christine Wachtell offers a refreshing proposal: Let the private school students and teachers go through the same test mania non-sense. Let those students get an all prep education. Let those teachers get pulled from the classroom to score tests.
Here is a modest proposal. Let's have private school students take the same standardized tests that public school students now take each year. While we are at it, let's require private school teachers to be absent from their students' classrooms for the same number of days as public school teachers, who now must serve as conscripted graders for the standardized tests. For public school children, it has been a long spring, shaped far too much by mandated testing. And the testing is not over. The latest outrage is that public school children are now expected to serve as free product testers for Pearson, the test preparation company awarded a $32 million, five-year contract to develop New York State's 3-8 grade tests. [The wikipedia article on Pearson.]

 From June 5-8 "field tests" -- tests composed entirely of trial questions that do not count towards students' annual test scores -- are supposed to be administered to one full grade at each public elementary and middle school. In trolling the internet, I discovered the English Language Arts and Mathematics Field Tests School Administrator's Manual. My favorite lines in it read: "Do not permit students to obtain information from or give information to other students in any way during the field tests. If you suspect that such an attempt has occurred, warn the students that any further attempts will result in the termination of their field tests." Students caught cheating on a test that won't be scored get to finish early.

When did we cross into the realm of the absurd? Let's just review how much of the spring already has been given over to testing. In April my fifth grade son, along with his aggrieved seventh grade brother, spent six days being tested in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. At ninety minutes per day, the tests were significantly longer than in past years. Then came May, when teachers at both my sons' New York City public schools were obliged to leave their classes in the hands of substitutes, while they graded other schools' standardized tests. My son's fifth grade teacher missed every Thursday for three weeks. Teachers at my older son's school missed even more days with their students. The principal of his middle school wrote to parents in late April: "Monday began a five-week period in which testing interferes with every aspect of the school program. During the six days of testing, three this past week and three days next week, every student will miss a minimum of 18 class periods. The six test days will be followed by three weeks, in which fourteen teachers ... will each be pulled out of school for five days, so they can assist in grading the tests ... This is what we are expected to do so the students can be tested!"

 A great deal of attention has focused on the flawed questions that appeared on this year's tests created by Pearson. Most notably, a nonsensical reading passage appeared on the 8th grade ELA test, concerning a race between a pineapple and a hare. The public outrage regarding that passage, quickly dubbed "Pinneapplegate," resulted in the invalidation of six questions. So too, my fifth grade son was asked on his math test to determine the perimeter of a trapezoid, even though it was later established that the particular trapezoid described does "not exist within the bounds of mathematics."

 How much testing is too much? Let's keep in mind that the SAT takes under four hours to measure college-bound students' verbal, mathematical, and writing skills. Should assessing my fifth grader's mastery of these same subjects take 9 hours? And does he really need to sit through more testing this school year to help Pearson make more money? At his elementary school, all 5th graders are supposed to take a math field test in early June. When private school students are enjoying their first days of summer break, do my son and his friends really need to be reckoning again with faulty trapezoids? Across the nation, there is a groundswell of protest rising against high stakes testing, and in New York State public school parents are calling for a boycott of the NYS June field tests. [Link to Parent Voices NY.]

Isn't it high time for private school students and their parents to share in the experience? I have often heard it suggested that, if America had instituted a universal draft, we never would have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. High-powered parents never would have tolerated sending their sons and daughters to Kabul instead of to college. Similarly, if New York State drafted private school children into statewide standardized testing, their high-powered parents would not stand for it. Then New York's headlong race toward ever longer, ever more high-stakes, and ever more flawed testing, would end quicker than a hare can beat a pineapple to the finish line.
From the New York Times Schoolbook: From a May 23, 2012 story and a May 24 update: By Hiten Samtani, "More Parents Are Saying No to Pearson's Field Tests"
Last month’s mandated standardized tests drew widespread criticism from many parents, who complained the tests were now dominating the curriculum and that too much weight is being put on the results to evaluate their children and teachers. Yet, despite the complaints over “high-stakes testing,” only a small group of parents decided to opt their children out of them, as many parents said they worried about the ramifications to their child and their schools if they did so. But as city students have begun a new round of standardized tests — this time so-called “field tests,” which are experimental tests that the state-contracted test-maker, Pearson, is using to try out questions on city students for future use — more parents are talking about opting out.

And test resistance appears to becoming more widespread, with substantial numbers of parents at several city schools deciding their children would not participate. Resistance also appears to be growing more organized. Groups like Change the Stakes are helping to spread information about opt-out procedures and have created a spreadsheet to help parents navigate the field testing landscape. ParentVoicesNY has created a boycott form letter that parents can download, sign and then submit to their school. The group also has direct connections with more than 20 schools, according to Kevin Jacobs, a public school teacher who is one of its active members.

 City officials said they will not have the final figures on how many parents chose to have their children opt out last month of the federally mandated standardized math and English tests for third through eighth graders. Results from these tests play a major role in grade promotion, middle and high school applications, and placement into gifted and talented programs. Test scores are also used in teacher and school evaluations . . . .

 An official at the city’s Department of Education said that unlike with last month’s standardized tests, the city does not monitor and analyze data from the field tests. The field tests are handled directly by Pearson, the official said, and the city’s approach to them is hands-off. The field tests are being given to help Pearson, the company who received a $32 million contract to design New York’s state tests, align its questions with the new Common Core learning standards. But it is doing so in an increasingly critical atmosphere, after multiple problems with last month’s tests, including errors in the multiple choice answers and complaints about a farcical passage related to a race between a pineapple and a hare. About 488,000 students will be involved in this year’s field tests, a spokesman for the New York State Education Department said. But last month’s standardized tests also had embedded field questions that will be used by Pearson purely for research purposes. As a result, the tests were 30 percent longer, another source of frustration for children and their parents. So why the need for the standalone field tests? The state Education Department spokesman said the validity and reliability of the state exams requires brief standalone pilot testing of questions, typically during a single 40 minute session . . . .

 Ms. Foote said she had feared that keeping her son out of last month’s tests would harm his school. Under No Child Left Behind, schools must have a 95 percent participation rate to satisfy their Adequate Yearly Progress, she said. “We wouldn’t do anything to hurt our schools.” But with the field tests she had no such qualms. “There were no consequences,” Ms. Foote said. “They’ve had a good gig going with this data department.” Jane Hirschmann, co-founder of Time Out from Testing, said that there were no known ramifications of boycotting the field tests. “Since they have no grade, they can’t be used for promotion, teacher evaluations, principal bonuses or a school grade,” she said. She added that a borough assessment implementation director from Brooklyn had said that as long as intent was expressed in writing, parents would be allowed to opt their children out. . . .

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