In Part One of this blog post, I told you about my personal decision to have my daughter in my own third grade public school class. My husband and I "opted her in" to this situation which has been a wonderful experience for our family. Now I would like to speak on the topic of opting out.
I'll be honest, state testing is a topic that makes my blood boil. As elementary school teachers, my husband and I both see firsthand the damage brought about by this era of inexhaustible testing. It is shocking to us that parents and teachers have not yet taken a stand against these issues in education that are destructive to children and society as a whole. The heart of the issue is that too many decisions about education are being made by non-educators, or people who do not spend daily time with children, especially inside a classroom.
Please understand that I am not speaking out against the Common Core Standards. There are certainly a lot of opinions about standards these days. My standards as a teacher have always been high. I actually enjoy the rigor of the new standards. I especially like the way that the new standards promote higher-level thinking in math. Yes, it is true that children these days are learning math in different ways, but they are developing a deeper understanding of math instead of just memorizing algorithms like I did in school. Also, I appreciate the new ways that children are being asked to interpret literature. My students are able to infer and make connections like never before!
Now back to the testing dilemma. Here is a look from the inside-out. These are my own personal opinions about testing, based on my experience in working daily with young children in a public school setting.
- Children are people. They are all unique and special in their own ways. Standardized tests will never be able to measure the value of a child or determine their success in life.
- Tests should be used to guide instruction in ways that help learners. State test results are used to gather statistics for headlines and rate schools and teachers. By the time the state test results reach the teacher, those students have moved on to the next grade level. These tests will never be able to accurately guide my instruction like the performance based tools that I use everyday with my students.
- State mandated testing (and the resulting hours of testing preparation) is taking away from real, meaningful teaching and learning. All combined, including the actual testing hours plus the hours of test preparation, I would estimate that I have
wastedspent a total of 58 hours of instructional time dedicated towards our state test. That is A LOT of instructional time. With that amount of time on my hands, I could add back in two full social studies or science units per school year! The students could learn about real, valuable things like they did before state-mandated tests.
- Constant testing and retesting leads to boredom and frustration for students in school. This is real, folks. Now more than ever, children don't want to come to school. Teachers work hard to dance around all the tests and sneak in some real, actual lessons in between. We strive to make school fun for our students, despite the mandates that have been imposed. Only a classroom teacher would know the sound of twenty four moaning students who are rightfully upset by the sight of yet another stack of tests.
- The state test questions are developmentally inappropriate. Let's just say that (in my opinion) the people who write these tests do not understand children. If the item sampler questions provided by the state are any indication of the actual questions on the test, it is quite apparent that the test writers are not aware of the developmental levels of children. Many of the questions are poorly worded and confusing. Even many of my strongest students cannot get beyond the wording of the questions. The constructed response question samplers that I have used with my students would be difficult for most adults.
- Professional development hours for teachers are being compromised by the test. Eighteen years ago, I actually looked forward to professional development days because it was an opportunity to learn something new that would directly impact my teaching and improve student learning. I remember when our school district used to hire experts and consultants to come motivate and demonstrate cutting edge instructional techniques. Now, we spend endless hours scrutinizing data. We highlight student names and sort kids into groups according to performance. We judge them for their scores on one standardized test. Needless to say, I no longer look forward to professional development days.
- State testing is big business. Lots of people are making money at the expense of our kids. Imagine the resources and improvements that could be made to schools if all things related to the state test were removed from the budget!
- Teachers are being judged unfairly and this indirectly impacts children. In our state, the test has now become a large component of the teacher evaluation system. I could devote an entire blog post to this issue, but here it is in a nutshell. There are way too many factors and influences that shape a test score. Teacher effectiveness is only a very small portion of what actually drives a test score. Imagine if doctors were evaluated by disease rates. It just doesn't make sense. My effectiveness as a teacher is much better evaluated by my actual performance in the classroom. My administrators are welcome to come and observe me in action anytime. Then they can really gain a sense of the job I do. The reason this evaluation system poses a problem for students is because teachers teach differently when they are fearful of losing their jobs because of a test score. Teaching becomes less about children, and more about meaningless numbers.
Now it is time for my favorite part of the post. As a teacher, I have never had the option to opt out of state testing. I perform my job responsibilities with great compassion toward student needs. I arduously strive to prepare my students for the test as required. This year, however, has presented itself a unique opportunity for me to exercise my right as a parent. You can probably guess that my husband and I have decided to opt our daughter out of the state test this year. The teacher's daughter will not be taking the test.
Every state has different guidelines. In the state of Pennsylvania, parents can opt out of the test for "religious" reasons. Religious affiliations can not be questioned and the school or state cannot deny the request. Parents are required to schedule an appointment to view the test and then make their appeal in writing to the superintendent of schools. In our unique case, since I will be the test administrator, my husband set up the appointment to view the test and then we together wrote and submit the letter. We are united in our belief that this test and all things related to it are bad for children. Heck, we'll start our own religion if we need to. ;-)
It is a bold move on our part. We realize that many people will have opinions about our decision once they find out about it. After all, it is my understanding that she is the only child in the whole school who is opted out. I teach in a school district that puts high priority on state testing. Our school district is usually ranked within the top three of the entire state of Pennsylvania. We strive hard for those rankings, but we also have a community of amazing students, parents, and teachers. It certainly does not require a Scantron test to make that determination.
Just in case you were wondering, my husband and I have done some research on how our decision to opt our daughter out of the state test at this point in her schooling could possibly impact her later in life. We found out that the PSSA test is not used for college admission consideration, if that is the path that she decides to take in life. Of course we do realize that at some point in her school career, standardized tests will be inevitable.
Now, at least you know why my daughter will not be a part of the statistics. Maybe you will think twice about the impact these tests are having on your own students and children. Maybe you will even decide to take a stand.
Follow along with me to find out how my daughter will spend her time at school while the other students take the 16 hour test (8 days times 2 hours per day). More coming soon!