Monday, March 2, 2015

So...Why is everyone so upset? It's just another test...

So, here's the thing. When I was in school, I LOVED standardized tests. They were a break from the routine. They happened once a year, for maybe three days. And, most importantly, I was good at them. In elementary school, I was probably a bit of a snot about it - I thought having the highest scores in the class meant I was the smartest person around.

In high school, there were the ACT and SAT. My scores nabbed me a scholarship to my college of choice.

SAT - Can you believe they asked for your religion on this one? Wow.

To get my teaching license, I took the NTE. 

I think we can say I nailed it. this time, I had learned a little about education, about knowledge, about the way people learn and express that knowledge. I had learned how to best assess my students..and it wasn't by giving them a standardized test. Most of all, I had learned what some of my strengths and failings were. I had learned enough to look at this percentile score, the one that says I did better than 97% of the teachers who took this test, and say "There is no WAY I am a better teacher than 97% of them. Top half, maybe, but top 3%? Not a chance."

A few years ago, I had the chance to take a standardized exam for auto mechanics. I didn't ace it...but I passed. Want me to work on your car? (Trust me, the answer is a resounding NO).

So, some people test well. There are at least as many people who ARE fantastic at what they do, but who can't pass a test like these to save their lives. Standardized tests do not measure what we can do, because a) we are not standardized people, and b) filling in answers on a test correlates with very few actual careers. I can think of a few jobs where answers are mostly cut and dried - accounting, maybe. Most jobs, though, require on the spot decisions, creativity, problem solving, application - not things you can demonstrate with one pen and paper (or keyboard and computer) test.

Some would like you to believe that the new PARCC test does measure those things. Those people either had something to do with making/marketing the test, or have never taken it. They also very likely are not familiar with brain development or appropriate cognitive levels at various ages. These are the people who want to hold back a child in Kinder if he can't read a list of sight words - even though we know that child's brain is not physically capable of doing so! *

*This wonderful article from Waldorf, a respected name in education, says in part "the reading center in the left brain and the connecting bridge-like pathway between the left and the right brain don't start developing until seven to nine years of age (girls may develop these pathways a little earlier, while some boys won't develop these pathways until ten or eleven years of age)." 

 But, I digress. What is wrong with the PARCC, specifically? Oh my goodness, where to begin...if you want some detailed answers, you can look here or here (from a proponent of Common Core, by the way), or here or here or here or...goodness, just google "What is wrong with the PARCC test" and start reading.

But, in case you don't have time, I'll give a basic overview:

1) The questions are not age appropriate.

Here's a sample question from a 3rd grade test - that's 8 years old: 
Old Mother West Wind and the Sandwitch both try to teach important lessons to characters in the stories. Write an essay that explains how Old Mother West Wind's and the Sandwitch's words and actions are important to the plots of the stories. Use what you learned about the characters to support your essay.

I understood the question. I could probably write an insightful answer.

I am 43.

The wording of this question is COMPLETELY inappropriate for an 8 year old. Analytical thinking is a great skill to learn, an important skill - but it is a developmental skill. You can't just present it and expect it to sink in. It is a part of how our brains develop as we grow, and it can't be forced. Many of the essay questions in this test sound great to adults, because our brains have developed beyond that point. An 8-year-old's brain has not. It's not a matter of what kids have or have not been taught at any given time, it's a matter of what they CAN or CAN NOT be taught! (Old Mother West Wind, by the way, is written at a 5th grade reading level. A developmentally normal third grader shouldn't be expected to be able to read it alone, let alone compose an analytical essay about it!)

And what is the average typing speed of a third grader? By the time most kids figure out, sort of, what the question is asking (and they aren't allowed to ask for clarification), look back through the passages, formulate some sort of answer, type it out painstakingly in the space provided...ask for help spelling a word, because they are pressured to get this right, but they aren't allowed to ask such questions or look a word up...wait, how many questions do they have? And, what, an hour to answer them all in?

which brings me to: 
2)  The format is inappropriate. 

When a test is timed, and you are asking elementary school children to do it all on computer, you are just setting them up to fail. Children who are faster typists will score better than kids who hunt and peck, which means the scores are not measuring what they purport to. Kids who mostly play on Starfall are having to navigate some sometimes complex screens with information and instruction in different areas - not all visible at once. Let's not even get into all the technical glitches that are being reported across the board!

Doing things on the computer uses one part of your brain. Doing them on paper uses another. Solving problems in real life - COMPLETELY different sections at work. I remember when I learned in my education classes that spelling bees (which I also loved - nerd) don't improve your spelling on paper, because they use a different part of your brain. I was crushed! But, should I ignore what science and research have told us about how kids learn just so I can hang onto something I personally enjoy?

3) Wait...who is collecting what data on my child, without informing me?

This isn't new to Pearson and PARCC - click here for an NPR article about the kinds of information gathering ("name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance") and sharing that goes on - without your knowledge or permission!

"FERPA always allowed school officials to release records to other education officials without parental consent. In 2008, that right was expanded to contractors and volunteers, as long as they were under "direct control" of schools. This included for-profit cloud service providers."

And, guess what? Even if you have opted your child out of the test, Pearson probably already has their data.

4) In a time when we are constantly hearing about school funding crises why in God's name are we spending millions upon millions on something so useless?

$30 per test. That's what Pearson charges to give schools the results. How many kids are in your child's class - 25, maybe? What kind of resources could his teacher buy, what kinds of amazing learning activities could she conduct with $750? Now look at how many kids are in your district - and think back to the last time something was cut because of lack of funds. According to this article, "New Mexico is increasing school funding by $72 per pupil this year.  But that is too small to offset the state’s $946 per-pupil cut over the previous five years. "

And then there's Skandera's connection to Pearson and the PARCC tests...I'll just post some links and let you do your own research if you want, because that's a whole 'nother ball of wax: (not that Fox is completely reliable - use this as a starting point)

5) The test results are inaccurate, unusable, and not standardized themselves.

Even on the practice tests, people have reported that they are marked wrong on questions they answered right - according to Pearson's own answer key. But, since nobody is allowed to see the questions, or what specifically a child got wrong, how can we tell if the same thing happens on the real test?

And then there are the many short answer or essay questions. Read here for a well-written description of how unqualified and unmotivated many of the scorers are, as well as the changing rubrics used.

But, wait, they said those rubrics were developed by a panel of teachers! Well, not exactly - these accounts from panel members will disabuse you of that notion pretty quickly.

Even if the results were accurate, even if they gave us some smidgen of information about a student's strengths and weaknesses: we won't get them until October! They will be in a different grade, probably with a different teacher, possibly in a different school, district or state. It is March. If I thought my son's teacher did not have a firm grasp on his strengths and weaknesses by now, I would be livid. In a decade of teaching, I NEVER found anything in standardized test results that were any help to me in planning my students' lessons. Nothing.

6) But they aren't really for student assessment anyway.

We have been told repeatedly that the tests are to measure the teacher and school performance, not the students. I have several problems with that:

- isn't it part of a principal's job to evaluate his or her teachers? Shouldn't he/she know how well they are doing after the first month or so of school? Why does my child have to lose weeks of instructional time and be made to feel inadequate so the principal doesn't have to do his/her job (not that this is the principal's choice, btw)
- when the teachers can't even see the tests, when we have already established just some of the reasons these test scores may not be accurate, when we are not looking at how much students have improved but how well they answer complicated questions on a given day, how can we make this any part of the teacher's evaluation?
- Experts have stated repeatedly that this kind of data usage is deeply flawed and ineffective.

7) Yet they are being held over students' heads.

The stress being put on these kids is incredible. Third graders are coming home sobbing, because their teachers have told them they will not go on to 4th grade if they do not pass the PARCC test (not true). High school students are told they will not get a diploma, and that even if they get a certificate instead, they will not be eligible for scholarships and colleges won't want them (neither is true). The tactics used when parents decide to refuse the tests are horrifying. In defense of our district, after a conversation in which my son's principal tried his best to talk me out of it (which he was pretty much mandated to do), we were done. My son will spend the testing time either getting in his time with the speech therapist, or mentoring in a younger grade. Other districts? Here are some reports from parents around the state:

Was just told (when i got home from work) that the principal told my wife today when she picked up our kids from school that if my son doesn't take the PARCC test (we opted out) that no 4th grade teacher will want him next year because it will affect their evaluation score and they don't want kids in their class that will opt out because they want high scores for themselves!

 I opted my daughter out of the PARCC testing also and she was treated so badly today from her teacher that I almost cried when she told me about. After the testing the kids were allowed to have a snack. If a child did not bring one one was provided to them by the teacher except my daughter. She had to sit and watch all the kids in her class eat in front of her. When she asked for one of the water bottles she was told that those were only for the students that participated in the test. Really??? How do you feel good about yourself doing that to a little girl? So we made cookies and decorated a water bottle for her to make it all very special for her

A little livid right now. My daughter's high school set up the testing schedule to work like this… When they go to math then that's when they test, when they go to English that's when they test, and so on. Well my daughter is in pre-calculus which is a senior class, and seniors do not take the PARCC (my daughter is a junior). They took 6 juniors from that class and now they are sitting in the library doing nothing because no one knows where they are supposed to test. So my daughter is missing out on 2 lessons on math right now because again it is a senior class and will continue without disruption, my daughter told me her math teacher was going to teach 2 lessons a class period because the class is two hours long and will not meet every other day due to PARCC. My head is going to explode!!

The reason for my question is I had a sit down meeting on Thursday and she wouldn't let me attend the assembly she had for the students. She used my daughter's name when talking about test scores before she knew who I was as well as threatened my daughter education as well as her academic achievements. All she cared about was her schools grade and funding she never once talked about the students and she has told me she will make it mandatory that the students who opt out of the parcc testing to stay home on those days with an unexcused abstance if that is true then my daughter will not be getting an education as well as disciplinary actions against her as well as b kicked out of (*school organization*). I was wondering if any of you have had the same problems?

Students of all ages have been told their parents don't care about their education, they will fail, they cannot walk the line at graduation, participate in activities like dances or athletics, won't succeed in college, and so on. Students at one school were bribed with ice cream if they would take the test - against their parents' wishes. Several parents have reported that their kids were forced to take the test, even after they (the parents) had refused the test in writing. Does this raise a red flag with anyone else??

Teachers are also getting bullied - because, that's what this is, folks, it's bullying - threatened with loss of licensure if they speak poorly about the test, or if they advise parents that they can opt out. Since the teachers are of course being asked about the tests, this puts them in a position of lie or lose your job!

There is so, so much more that is so very wrong here, but honestly, after the little girl with the water bottle, I just can't stomach any more. If this doesn't answer your questions, or if you have your own experiences to share, please add it to the comments! 

***Editing 3/4 to add another link - this boggles the mind.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this passionate post! Keep fighting. Keep researching. You will find that all our questions about "Why do my children have to take these tests?" can be answered with one word: Money. A lot of people making a lot of it off public school budgets and convincing us it's what's best for our kids (while theirs attend private schools that don't test). These horror stories are only the tip of the iceberg - it's happening everywhere, and it doesn't even mention what happens to kids with special needs. REFUSE THE TESTS. Our children deserve better.