Parents Revolt Against Testing Run Amok!
Unless you have children or grand children in the public schools, you may have missed the rebellion of parents against the pervasive testing that is part of the Common Core accountability movement. Educators across the country have joined in, repealing graduation requirements, cutting back on the number of required exams and putting off evaluation of the Common Core Standards. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education posted a blog in August, that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” He added that teachers needed more time to adapt to new standards and tests.
In Gainesville, Florida, Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher, told the parents of her pupils on her Facebook page that she would refuse to give them the state-ordered diagnostic reading tests. There were two basic problems: Only one computer in the class would mean children taking the tests one-by-one. In addition, students were unable to work the mouse! She estimated three weeks of teaching time if she gave the tests. Shortly after her posting, the state education commissioner suspended that test for younger pupils. In addition, going public on the Internet sparked parents and teachers across the state giving voice to their problems with the avalanche of testing at all levels.
“My third grader loves school, but I can’t get her out of the car this year,” Dawn LaBorde told a parents meeting in Royal Palm Beach. She said through tears that her son a junior in high school is so shaken, “I had to take him to the doctor. He can’t sleep, but he’s tired. He can’t eat, but he’s hungry.” Florida endorsed the Common Core Standards early. Now parents are meeting and decrying the avalanche of tests from district, state and federal levels.
Common Core Standards were created by the National Governors Association in 2009 with the purpose to “provide a consistent clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” In addition, “the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.” There are two main components: English Language Arts and Mathematics. During 2010, 44 of the states and the District of Columbia adopted the Common Core. Since then, several states voted to repeal or replace Common Core. Science and Social Studies were not included in the original Common Core. Next Generation Science Standards were released in April, 2013 and were adopted by many states. The purpose of the Standards and the selection of main Components appear to be sensible and valid. However the emphasis has been on measuring results by standardized tests rather than the teaching and learning in the classrooms.
Florida tests students more frequently than most other states, with many schools dedicating 60 to 80 days out of the l80 day school year to standardized testing. Former Governor Jeb Bush began standardized testing and an A to F grading system for schools. In late August, Governor Rick Scott of Florida called for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to review standardized tests, many of them required by the state. Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami -Dade County Schools, the fourth -largest district in the nation, has made his position on testing clear. “This is too much, too far, too fast, and it threatens the fabric of real accountability.”
When I read of the kindergarten children whose small fingers were unable to control the mouse, I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. It has been many years since I taught in the public schools at the eighth grade level as my first teaching job. I heard from the other teachers the challenges that kindergarten, first and second grade teachers faced. The last thing they needed was to be forced to administer batteries of standardized tests to their pupils. Of course, in those years, reading wasn’t taught until first grade. Pre-school was unknown for most children and kindergarten was where they became socialized and learned to play and share and work together with other children. Today, most schools teach reading in the first grade since so many children attend pre-school or learn the basics from television, iPads or computers. Head Start has been an important program for children from low-income homes where both parents or a single parent are working two jobs. They rarely have the time to read to their children or even have long conversations. Language skills can lag in the home with few books and little communication. It is very doubtful if standardized testing solves the problems these teachers and their pupils face.
Over the years, as I became deeply immersed in teaching at the college level and kept abreast of every new development in the world of education, I became convinced that the essential answer to student success lay in the quality of teaching in every classroom. We each remember, I am sure, certain teachers from our elementary, secondary or college years. They captured our interest and imagination. They inspired us to do our best work in their classrooms. Their methods differed. Their personalities differed. They may have been men or women. We looked forward to their classes. They usually took an interest in their students. There were tests, of course, short answer and essay. Very few standardized except for pre-college . Schools of Education today bear the responsibility to prepare their students for the real world of teaching in urban and rural areas. Hopefully, they are doing more than teaching them to administer standardized tests.
In November, 2011, I wrote a column describing several highly creative teachers. Durham, New Hampshire was one of the school districts. “The main emphasis at the Oyster River Middle School is on creative learning and teaching. Linda Rief, who has taught English for 24 years, gives her 8th grade students a semester-long “genre” project. They choose a subject areas like mysteries, read novels by classic authors such as Agathie Christie, and study how a mystery is constructed with characters, plot, suspense, foreshadowing and denouement. Then, they write their own mystery novel. Science students have built an underwater robotic vessel on research in design, specifications and operational requirements. Social Science classes have reenacted the Boston Massacre of the American rebels by the British soldiers with appropriate study and background information. On state mandated tests, 85 percent of the students are rated “proficient”. On the three SAT tests that juniors and seniors took for college entry and placement, the Oyster River students in 2011 averaged 1670, 111 points above the state average and 170 points above the national average. Jay Richard, the principal has described Oyster River as “a textbook free school”, where the teachers’ original lessons are superior to the packaged curriculums. It’s hard to argue educational methodology and testing for accountability with scores like that!”