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Should Parents Opt Out of Tests?

| 12 Comments

And should teachers encourage them to do so?

Do you remember Carl Chew? He is a teacher in the state of Washington who became famous last Spring when he refused to administer the state achievement test (WASL) to his 6th grade students. Chew was suspended for two weeks as a result of his action. This week he turned the spotlight on efforts to get parents to “opt out” of the state test. He writes:

CarlChew.jpg

There is one powerful group in Washington though with a legal means to end the WASL and suffer no retribution, and that is parents. If even a third of the parents who say they are against high-stakes testing were to opt their children out of the WASL it would deal a statistical and thus mortal blow to the test. It is easy to opt out. Your children will go to school during the testing weeks, but miraculously go on learning instead of stressing out on confusing, unfair, and biased test booklets.
He refers parents to a website run by Mothers Against WASL.

He explained the reasons he refused to give the tests in an open letter last spring.

I performed this single act of civil disobedience based on personal moral and ethical grounds, as well as professional duty. I believe that the WASL is destructive to our children, teachers, schools, and parents.

Further:

Most, if not all, teachers will agree that assessment is vital. Wise teachers know that assessments which are also learning experiences for students and teachers are the best. The WASL categorically is not a learning experience.

I believe that individual students are entitled to their own learning plans, tailored to their own needs, strengths and interests. Teachers know it is definitely possible to do this in the context of a public school. The WASL categorically treats all children alike and requires that they each fit into the same precise mold, and state-mandated learning plans based on WASL scores fail to recognize individual strengths of students.


When I was a teacher at Graham Hill Elementary in Seattle, a number of my students received their WASL scores to find that they had "failed". When I looked at the notices being sent to their parents I saw that each student had come to within just a few points of actually passing and that their scores were well within the gray area, or "margin of error," for the test. The "test scientists" aren't sure whether the student passed or failed, yet the school tells the student he or she failed. These students cried when they saw the results.

No one ever asked me or any of the teachers I know whether high-stakes testing was a good idea. In fact, we teachers are made to jump through seemingly endless hoops to prove our worthiness to be professional, certificated educators. Public school teachers are responsible for the educational lives of over a million students in Washington state, yet, in the end, no one actually wants to listen to what teachers have to say about what is best for the students in our care.

His recent message concludes:

I hope I have gained enough credibility by my thoughtful actions to have you consider this possibility. Teachers who refuse to give the WASL in Washington risk similar penalties as mine, and they will simply be replaced by a substitute to administer the test. Parents truly hold the winning cards here. Talk to your friends and forward this email to others who feel the same way as you do. You can start the ball rolling.

UPDATE: The National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom has passed a resolution calling for a boycott of the national tests.

Hazel Danson, of the NUT's executive which proposed the motion said that league tables are 'rigged' because they force schools to focus on borderline pupils who can push up their overall score.

She said: 'It's tantamount to government-funded cheating, and we can't be complicit in that anymore.'

What do you think of Carl Chew’s stance? Are there significant numbers of parents out there willing to opt out? Is this an effective or wise response for those unhappy with the emphasis on tests?

12 Comments

It is our duty to stop the child abuse of testing. Parents should, of course, opt their children out. And teachers should, of course, boycott the tests. They can't fire all of us.

Carl Chew is an example of someone who followed through with what he believed in. However, he had no backing and nearly lost everything. At what point do we say, "I don't care about the ramifications. The abuse of my students is too rampant and destructive. I MUST do whatever I can in my power to protect them." Is that not what we are called to do as teachers? Why else be in the profession? Otherwise, it DOES appear as if we are in it for the pay check. We are called on to teach these children about life in most of its aspects, and are thus called to remove blocks in the road that prevent that from occuring. If the law states that parents can opt out AND that they can be informed of that option, it should be pursued. And if that causes friction and drama, then so be it. It will bring the darkness of testing abuse in to the light.

Well, there are parents who refuse vaccinations as well, and those who believe that fluoride in the public water supply is a communist plot. As long as they live in the margins they don't hurt too much. But there is always the danger of a massive hysteria based on beliefs such as testing equals child abuse. At some point the behavior begins to beg comparison to shouting fire in a crowded theater.

Perhaps teachers with honest concerns can see to it that statistical methods are taught to all students, with special catch up opportunities for teachers and parents who missed out.

Margo,
I would say to you then obviously you have not been in a classroom lately and REALLY looked at what is being done over a year's breadth of time. It is not only the insanity of the test itself, but the insanity of the preparation that excludes critical thinking skills, arts, social development, hands on science, hands on social studies, and physical education. These are not just ideas wildly thrown about by me. Other leading countries value those concepts and incorporate them, while we are diminishing them. These are documented in study after study. The drop out rate has INCREASED since NCLB. The gap between whites and blacks has INCREASED as well. The lowest "scoring" students and highest scoring students have been marginalized and done worse, while the kids on the edge of a proficiency cut-off have been focused on to make the most impact on a schools testing report. I am here to tell you that the theater IS on fire and you don't even know it. You don't see the abuse because it becomes inherent, and parents become desensitized by ignorant editorials that push score comparisons such that it becomes o.k. I am hardly in a "margin". Nearly 70% of the American public said in a recent PDK/ Gallup poll that NCLB needed to be changed. I'm not quite sure what you imply in your last paragraph.

Joseph:

I also value the concepts that you list. But, I would hasten to point out that those countries that are incorporating those things, and doing it well, are smoking us on international tests. I absolutely decry the practices that you cite. But--as you point out, they have not resulted in dramatic improvement in test scores, nor improved graduation rates (although I am interested in your source that suggests that they have declined--as well as those that point to widening achievement gaps).

I would also point out that the really hideous things that are going on (lock-step pacing guides, drill and kill, cutting out arts, recess, social studies, etc)--are all decisions being made at the local levels. What I don't understand--and my opinion changes like a metronome on the topic--is why these particular "strategies" are being selected? Have things gotten so bad (or were they always so bad) that the schools are being run by people who thing that these things will actually bring about measureable improvement? Or is this simply a bad reaction? Some passive-aggressive attempt to screw things up so badly that everyone will go away and leave things alone?

I know the canned answers. These decisions are made by people far away from the classroom--people who, if they were any good at all, would still be in the classroom. If administration is really left to the incompentents, well, why is that. How is it that we don't have "educators," or people who have gone into the field to apply themselves in whatever way needed to see that kids learn? Rather, we have "teachers" and then we have "administrators." And they sit on two sides of a divide and blame each other for everything that is wrong.

Or is this just a symptom of a dysfunctional system? Teachers don't pick up the administrative mantle as an enhancement of teaching because then they would have to face up to the responsibility to actually change the things that they have been talking about for many years. When administrators get there, they cannot change their (former) peers because everyone has too much stake in resisting change.

I am tired, very tired of hearing all about how the tests have ruined education. The tests have only highlighted the problems that were already there. But now that they are known--in ways too plain to deny--what are we going to do about it? Turn off the spotlight, or figure out how to make things better?

I'm sorry, but as a parent, I am not comfortable being cast as being desensitized by ignorant editorials. I have been an parent for quite a while, and as it happens, the fact that test scores are both disaggregated and public mean that I now know it is not just my own child that is doing poorly in a school or in our district. Something needs to change when all of the kids who look like him are also doing poorly. It's not just about working harder on homework, or reading at home. There is a real problem with the fit between the education available and the needs of the students.

My last paragraph indicates that I am tired of hearing claims that "the tests" are not valid or reliable, from people who don't remember the difference between the two, or who have picked up some shard of a statistical understanding that they can mis-apply to convince people that the tests don't mean anything. 70% of respondents to a Gallup poll saying that NCLB needed to be changed is a far cry from a widespread belief that testing is child abuse.

Ok, so you're tired of hearing that it's the tests that have caused the abominations that I speak of. Perhaps I have not been clear enough. There have always been tests. I took the CTBS when I was a kid, like many others. It was just a tool that gave SOME information. My entire school journey has not been based on those exams. I am not arguing for the elimination of assessment. I am arguing for the elimination of high stakes testing because of what it does to the teacher's plans, and thus to the student's learning. No where has there ever been a study that shows if you test kids more, they learn more. Just because test scores are "disaggregated" doesn't mean anything if the tests don't tell you what they are intended to tell you (validity!). A child's score doesn't mean a hill of beans if it doesn't tell you what they know and are able to do and actual reality. This directly relates to your concern about kids who "look the same" scoring about the same. Many studies have shown that socioeconomic status directly correlates with test scores. The ideology is that poverty creates a learning gap that is very difficult to overcome (see Rothstein's interview below). It's not impossible, but that's where teacher collaboration, freedom, and creativity come in. Those kids need to be exposed to real life situations that they never have seen---the cause for their lack of background knowledge and thus learning discrepancies in most situations. When they are denied that in favor of continuous drilling and elimination of the enriching classes the higher scoring kids get, it IS abuse. You don't want to put that label on it because it sounds too fierce. The situation is dire, and so it has to be given that title.

All that being said, I agree that there are some leadership issues in the teaching ranks that have allowed this to fester. Perhaps an unwillingness to really "get in there" and foster an assessment system that really works (try this link for a good idea) :

http://ednews.org/articles/36582/1/An-Interview-with-Richard-Rothstein-Rebecca-Jacobsen-and-Tamara-Wilder-about-their-new-book-Grading-Education-Getting-Accountability-Right/Page1.html

On the whole, most parents are not as informed as you are, obviously---and that is to your credit. At least you have tried to look at many things before making your conclusion. However, I would ask that you at least read some of what I have read and consider some more. Most editors of newspapers push ideology that is based on nonsensical use of statistics--the very thing you claim is "mis-applied" by some. International comparisons in many cases are flawed in the fact that the student populations are not the same (they track their "bad students" into menial jobs; good ones get to go to college) and that if they were compared on a playing field that was even, WE would trash them. Keep in mind that we continue to be #1 in the world by the WEC for global competitiveness. The comparisons for what our kids can "do" simply cannot be measured by numbers only. The humanity, uniqueness, and creativity of our kids is the envy of the world. Let's keep it that way.

You said you wanted evidence, so here are some links:

Find William Mathis's report, NCLB's Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do They Improve the Quality of Education? on the web at: http://www.greatlakescenter.org.

The full text of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School is available at http://www.allianceforchildhood.org.

Margo,

Ok, so you're tired of hearing that it's the tests that have caused the abominations that I speak of. Perhaps I have not been clear enough. There have always been tests. I took the CTBS when I was a kid, like many others. It was just a tool that gave SOME information. My entire school journey has not been based on those exams. I am not arguing for the elimination of assessment. I am arguing for the elimination of high stakes testing because of what it does to the teacher's plans, and thus to the student's learning. No where has there ever been a study that shows if you test kids more, they learn more. Just because test scores are "disaggregated" doesn't mean anything if the tests don't tell you what they are intended to tell you (validity!). A child's score doesn't mean a hill of beans if it doesn't tell you what they know and are able to do and actual reality. This directly relates to your concern about kids who "look the same" scoring about the same. Many studies have shown that socioeconomic status directly correlates with test scores. The ideology is that poverty creates a learning gap that is very difficult to overcome (see Rothstein's interview below). It's not impossible, but that's where teacher collaboration, freedom, and creativity come in. Those kids need to be exposed to real life situations that they never have seen---the cause for their lack of background knowledge and thus learning discrepancies in most situations. When they are denied that in favor of continuous drilling and elimination of the enriching classes the higher scoring kids get, it IS abuse. You don't want to put that label on it because it sounds too fierce. The situation is dire, and so it has to be given that title.

All that being said, I agree that there are some leadership issues in the teaching ranks that have allowed this to fester. Perhaps an unwillingness to really "get in there" and foster an assessment system that really works (try this link for a good idea) :

http://ednews.org/articles/36582/1/An-Interview-with-Richard-Rothstein-Rebecca-Jacobsen-and-Tamara-Wilder-about-their-new-book-Grading-Education-Getting-Accountability-Right/Page1.html

On the whole, most parents are not as informed as you are, obviously---and that is to your credit. At least you have tried to look at many things before making your conclusion. However, I would ask that you at least read some of what I have read and consider some more. Most editors of newspapers push ideology that is based on nonsensical use of statistics--the very thing you claim is "mis-applied" by some. International comparisons in many cases are flawed in the fact that the student populations are not the same (they track their "bad students" into menial jobs; good ones get to go to college) and that if they were compared on a playing field that was even, WE would trash them. Keep in mind that we continue to be #1 in the world by the WEC for global competitiveness. The comparisons for what our kids can "do" simply cannot be measured by numbers only. The humanity, uniqueness, and creativity of our kids is the envy of the world. Let's keep it that way.

Links of evidence to follow in next few posts

More evidence for you:

Find William Mathis's report, NCLB's Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do They Improve the Quality of Education? on the web at: http://www.greatlakescenter.org.

The full text of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School is available at www.allianceforchildhood.org.

More evidence:

The poll I spoke of:

http://www.pdkmembers.org//members_online/publications/e-GALLUP/kpoll_pdfs/pdkpoll40_2008.pdf

High stakes accountability and the dropout crisis
http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v16n3/

More evidence:

International comparison problems
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/12/15/adelman

Science learning being eroded
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/6367232.html

I have other studies as well, such as the Broader, Bolder Approach and Left Behind By Design, if you would like them. Very reputable studies.

Every year in California, hundreds of teachers are gathered around a television screen to watch the updated mandates about testing. We are admonished to say nothing to anyone about the test questions, read the children's responses, and above all- Do not mention the opt out option to parents! Since secrecy is the first ingredient in the creation of a dictatorship and abuse of authority the second, what does that say about a system of testing that demands both? As a teacher I believe in authentic assessment, but our STAR tests don't qualify. As a parent, I would opt out if it wasn't a death sentence for future funding at my child's school. In a small school, when only one family opts out of testing, the entire ranking of the school plummets and every single child ends up suffering. I am ashamed of my failure to stand up for the right way of doing things but would be foolish to take a stand with a futile response. I applaud Mr. Chew's strength of character.

Thank you to Mr. Chew for his bravery and willingness to take a stand. As both a teacher and a parent of five children, I agree with every thing he says. Margo, the parent above, is sadly misinformed about just about all levels and aspects of testing -- and I totally understand this, as I too had been misinformed before I stepped into the classroom. There is a lot of power at stake out there; not to be cynical, but that's the bottom line. College Board (money), politicians and education elites (power/prestige), have everything at stake in declaring our schools 'failing' and conveniently proposing solutions which give themselves more power and money. It truly has absolutely nothing to do with the student. As someone else notes, we have been standardized testing kids for decades; we have data up the wazoo. The trick is what to do with the data. And the media has not been doing it duty to inform; too often it instead locksteps into place with the powers that be. The 'comparison' with other countries that supposedly demonstrates our poor education and failing schools is only one case in point--it is frequently stirred up by the press but never - never - do I see the acknowledgment that the comparison is statistically meaningless as it fails to compare two similar groups. It is like comparing varsity athletes in one school with the entire student body in another, and concluding that the second school had a terrible athletic program. Anyway, I wish I could be like Mr Chew, but I'm a single mom who needs to support my children. And as a mom, I could gather up a protest group but it would require a great deal of communication to overcome perceptions like Margo's, who has been propagandized to believe the tests are somehow valid (they are not scientifically valid at all, on many levels). In the meantime, i am certain I would be attacked -- again, many powers have much at stake in these tests. Bottom line; I need my job. Head in the sand. Sheep.

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