The impact of High-Stakes Testing on Students and Families

I was probably like your average parent with regards to high-stakes testing until October 2012.  I knew that kids took some state tests but didn’t give it too much thought and figured they were good for the kids/schools.  At our October 2012 middle school PTO meeting, two teachers came to share a resolution from the Niagara Regional PTA to stop over-testing of students in New York State schools and as they discussed the resolution, they shared that our students would spend 14 days taking tests that school year!  That number struck me as huge!  14 days spent taking tests instead of receiving instruction – what a waste of time!  What was the point?  What benefit did this provide for the students?  As I started to investigate I learned that there was no benefit to the student and in fact there were actually many concerns associated with standardized testing/high-stakes testing.

Many, many articles have been written regarding the various problems with high-stakes testing.  Here are a few that I found when I first started investigating the issue:  Common Core tests are Not Good for Children or Other Living Things by Anthony Cody, What big drop in new standardized test scores really means by Valerie Strauss/Carol Burris, A Hero Principal:  Every Principal Should be this Honest by Diane Ravitch.  The various problems include:

  • stress placed on the children taking the tests
  • the fact that the tests are not an accurate measure of either teacher or student performance
  • parents and teachers do not have access to the tests and/or results in a timely fashion to use them as teaching tools
  • inappropriate levels of testing for special education and English Language Learner students
  • and more

Please read these articles and if you still don’t understand the problems with testing, google the various authors and you will find a wealth of other articles.

In addition to being an officer for the Bailey Middle School PTO in 2012, I was co-chairwoman of District Wide Parents’ Council.  DWPC began to discuss the issues associated with high-stakes testing and authored a resolution against high-stakes testing in March 2013 – DWPC High-Stakes Testing Resolution as well as hosted a high-stakes testing forum in March 2013 and invited parents/teachers from the various school districts in Ulster County.  Parents were concerned about high-stakes testing and there were groups encouraging parents to refuse the state tests.  However parents in Kingston were concerned as to what impact there would be on our title 1 funding if students did not take the state tests and our district is heavily dependent on our title 1 funding.  Also the parents who did want to refuse the tests received letters from the school district administration that felt ‘threatening’ and said that they, the parents, could not refuse the tests and there was nothing the school district could do to help them – the parent would have to take it to Albany.  I was provided with copies of the letters by a couple parents TestingLetterBailey TestingLetterMiller TestingLetterSophieFinnbut parents were so concerned about ‘getting in trouble’ that we had to cross out any identifying information in the letters.  There was a definite feeling of intimidation towards parents whether it was intended or not.

My daughter, who was in sixth grade, did not refuse the state tests in 2013 because we were concerned as a family about whether it would cause some adverse consequences for her and we did not want her singled out for scorn or punishment.  She however decided to begin a petition herself among her friends against the state tests and gathered several pages of signatures against the tests.  Some students even included why they did not like the tests.  She also heard about the Lace to the Top movement to wear green shoelaces in protest of the testing and purchased green shoelaces for her shoes and wore them for a year straight! Green Laces Our children really do understand for themselves that there are problems with the testing and we need to listen to their concerns and not think that only the adults understand what is going on.

Fast forward now to 2014 – parents have had a year to think about testing, read articles about it and more people have started to hear about the impact/consequences of high-stakes testing.  Many Kingston parents would like to have their student(s) refuse the state tests but there are a number of unanswered questions:

  • will the students be kept from taking honors courses if they do not take the state tests?
  • will the students be forced to ‘sit-and-stare’ during the test if they refuse the test?
  • will the student be required to verbally state that they are refusing the test or will a written refusal letter from the parent be accepted as the refusal?

DWPC requested answers for these questions and the Kingston school district responded with a ‘sit-and-stare’ policy (children would not be forced to sit-and-stare – see my blog post about the district response here) before the ELA test.  10.7% of the Kingston students in grades 3-8 refused the state ELA test even though there was no concerted effort by parents to make this happen in the Kingston school district.  My daughter was one of the refusals but we did not make the final decision until the day before the ELA test was scheduled to begin. As it turns out almost 200 students at my daughter’s middle school refused the test which caused her school to fall below the 95% participation rate.  The Kingston schools put students refusing the tests in separate locations so they did not have to ‘sit-and-stare’ but they still had to sit through the entire test time.  My daughter loves to read so she did not mind reading for 9 hours during the ELA test but it was still a long time away from regular instruction and she said that some students didn’t remember to bring books.  The students at her school had to sit for 9 hours (3 hours each of the 3 testing days) because there was no room for the students with double-time accommodations to go to alternate locations so everyone had to stay in the testing rooms until the full 3 hours were completed each testing day.  After the first day, students were limited to one bathroom pass as well because bored students were taking too many bathroom breaks.  The refusal students did not have a ‘sit-and-stare’ situation but it was still definitely less than ideal although I suspect that it was the best that could be done in a school that has been struggling with overcrowding for the entire year.  Kingston parents were happy to not be Saugerties school district parents however because Saugerties chose to enforce a sit-and-stare policy for students refusing the test!  Saugerties students whose parents refused the test for them had to sit in the same room with the students taking the test and do nothing but stare at the walls for the duration of the test period.

The honors course admission question was not answered until after the ELA state test.  The answer came back that a variety of criteria are used for honors courses with the state tests being just some of the options – see full answer in this blog post.  The Kingston school district seemed to be providing information to parents and allowing us to refuse as we deemed appropriate and then the KCSD Statement on Testing was issued prior to the math state test!  You can read the statement and my personal response to the statement here but it felt like another round of parental intimidation.  The district needed to tell the parents why they should make sure that their students took the state test regardless of how the parents felt about the tests.  Fortunately the KCSD statement didn’t seem to have a huge affect on parents since the superintendent reported to the Kingston board of education that 24% of Kingston students grades 3-8 refused the math state test.  The percentage was highest in the two middle schools with both middle schools having about a 30% refusal rate.  8 of the 9 Kingston schools fell below the 95% participation rate.  Parents tried to find out the actual number of students refusing the tests when the tests were being administered but were told that the information could not be given out – more parental intimidation?  Maybe not but definitely not good communication between parents and the school.  The sense of trust that parents should have in the school district has been lost thanks to all of this testing and the problems that have arisen associated with it.  There are even reports from parents that their students were forced to take the state test even though the parent sent in a note refusing the test.

Such reports have continued with the administering of the scantron/STAR test in Kingston since the state testing completed.  Some parents wanted their children to not take any standardized tests including the scantron/STAR tests and submitted letters stating such but have been told that these are local assessments and they are not allowed to refuse.  Where did the progress that was made between 2013 and 2014 with the state tests go?

There are two testing related issues in other school districts that I want to point out that have occurred very recently.  The first one is from the Middletown school district.  600 K-2 students and their parents learned the day before school ended that the students were being required to attend summer school based on their scores from the MAP test that the students took 3 times throughout the school year (see blog post here).  I personally spoke with a parent Lucy from the school district who was in touch with her 2 kindergarten students’ teacher throughout the entire year and constantly asked if they were doing okay, if there was any reason why they would not be ready for the next grade.  The teacher assured Lucy that the students were doing just fine and then Lucy received a letter on the day before school ended that her children would have to go to summer school in order to be allowed to go to first grade!  She felt betrayed!  Where had the communication gone awry from the district?  She is not opposed to summer school if her students are going to learn more sight words or something that will really benefit them but she believes they will just learn how to pass the MAP test.  She didn’t even know her students were taking the MAP test or she would have refused the test for them!  The Middletown superintendent said

The children in the summer program are identified based on local math and English language assessment tests administered three times a year, Eastwood said. He said the district is committed to addressing academic insufficiencies in grades K-2 to head off academic failure, and that’s where summer school money will be allocated.

We’ve never had standards like we do now, we have to get these kids ready for academic challenges, we have to do something significant.  – recordonline.com

The superintendent has apologized that the parents didn’t have more notice but is standing firm that the students have to go to the summer school based on the results of a computerized test taken by students who many parents feel have no understanding of the consequences of a “test’ that they took on the computer.  How can these tests really be reliable?  Why are teachers and parents not being allowed to make decisions based on teacher observation and things that we know are accurate indicators of student progress?

The other district of concern is the Utica school district where 5 schools (2 middle schools and 3 elementary schools) learned that they ‘won’ the Extended Learning Time grant the day before school ended.  Students in these schools will have their school day extended from 9am to 5pm starting in September and parents had no idea that this change was coming!

[The superintendent] says the purpose is to enhance academics and increase test scores.  He says that their mission is to educate students and to make certain that they are … learning, achieving, and scoring the best possible test scores that they can and that is our number one mission.” –  WIBX Exclusive

Kingston City School District applied for the Extended Learning Time grant but as a result of public outcry when parents learned of the grant application and its implications thanks to the efforts of Kingston Action For Education, the Kingston school district withdrew their application.  However, we are feeling very sad for Utica parents who are now facing such long days and drastic changes without parental input as a result of their school administration trying to achieve better test scores!  When will parents be consulted?  When will parents’ voices be heard regarding what is important in our children’s education?

People in leadership around the state are starting to speak out regarding high-stakes testing.  Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin challenged New York State parents to refuse the state tests in 2015! (blog post here)  Gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and Congressman Chris Gibson refused the state tests for their children in 2014.  How do we encourage all New York parents to refuse the state tests in 2015 and break this pillar that is holding up Common Core?  How do we support parents who feel intimidated or don’t know that they have the right to refuse the tests?  We need to spend the upcoming school year talking about high-stakes testing, the problems associated with the tests and how we as parents can refuse the tests and stop this madness that has been brought upon our children in the name of Common Core!

I was honored to speak regarding High-Stakes Testing as part of a bi-partisan, grassroots Education Conversation in Schenectady on Saturday July 12, 2014.  I presented a lot of the information above – video here.  I didn’t have time to share it all.

Other presenters spoke about the history of Common Core and how it is manipulating our children/teachers/schools, how parents and mothers in particular are advocating for their children, the social-emotional impact of Common Core on children, special education, charter schools, annual professional performance review (APPR) and the cost of Common Core.  Candidate for governor Rob Astorino also spoke about his stand against Common Core.  Here is a link to the video playlist from the forum – Education Conversation video playlist and some pictures from the forum if you are on facebook.