Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Opting out of testing mania

Network for Public Education
Today, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights led 11 civil rights groups into a national disagreement with students who have exercised their constitutional political free speech rights and chosen to opt-out of high-stakes testing.
The Network for Public Education supports those who choose to opt out, because we believe these tests are now causing harm to students, and to the cause of educational equity. Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian has written a response to The Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights’ statement, which the Network for Public Education shares here. He states, “High-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.”
We support opting out of high stakes tests because:
  • There is no evidence that these tests contribute to the quality of education, have led to improved educational equity in funding or programs, or have helped close the “achievement gap”.
  • These tests, particularly those associated with the Common Core, have become intrusive in our schools, consuming huge amounts of time and resources, and narrowing instruction to focus on test preparation.
  • These tests have never been independently validated or shown to be reliable and/or free from racial and ethnic bias.
  • Instead the Common Core exams are being used as a political weapon to claim huge numbers of students are failing, to close neighborhood public schools, and fire teachers, all in the effort to disrupt and privatize the public education system.

Thus, the notion that subjecting students to high-stakes tests is a “civil right” is inherently misguided.
Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and NPE board member stated, “The alleged benefit of No Child Left Behind and national required annual high stakes testing was to unveil the achievement gaps, and by doing so, close them. After more than a decade of high-stakes testing this never happened. Instead, thousands of neighborhood schools— the anchors of communities, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods — were closed and their students sent to another low performing and poorly resourced school much further away from their home.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights argued that data obtained through standardized tests are “the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes.” This statement is completely false. There is reliable disaggregated national data available from NAEP. There are a number of student outcomes available to consider the success of students, schools, districts, states and the nation. More importantly, we must pay closer attention to data that demonstrate the differences in opportunity between schools.
While persisting inequality between schools is our real challenge, the political framing supported by testing is instead a focus on the failure of our students and teachers in our public system. This rhetoric is then linked to school “reform” policies that have made the real agenda very clear—continuing to underfund schools and replace our locally controlled public school systems with privately controlled schools. Private control allows the opportunity to profit from equally under resourced and poor-performing charters, for-profit on-line schools, and vouchers for private schools (which opt-out of testing). Without democratic control, these schools are free to create a constant churn of temporary teachers whose work is largely reduced to worksheets and canned software programs for test preparation.
The Seattle NAACP recently urged parents to opt out of the SBAC test, and stated:
Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants as lesser—while systematically underfunding their schools—has a long and ugly history.
It is true we need accountability measures, but that should start with politicians be accountable to fully funding education and ending the opportunity gap. The costs tied to the test this year will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. If the State really wants students to achieve academic performance at higher levels these dollars should be put in our classrooms and used for our children’s academic achievement, instead of putting dollars in the pockets of test developers.
The use of high-stakes tests has become part of the problem, rather than a solution. We reiterate our support for parents and students who choose to exercise their political free speech and opt out of high stakes tests, and call on our nation’s leaders to shift policies away from these tests.




The Network for Public Education is an advocacy group co-founded by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society.
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