Education

What Happens When Parents Stand Up and Say No to Testing?

A lesson in the power of collective action.

Photo Credit: chrisdorney | Shutterstock.com

Parents in one New York City school have decided to do more than complain about the perils of testing young children. They’re taking action, en masse, and getting results.

The Castle Bridge Elementary School is a progressive, dual-language K-2 school in the Washington Heights section of New York City. When parents there learned of a plan to give multiple choice tests to children as young as Kindergarten, they decided enough was enough. They refused to let their children be tested -- and as a result, the school’s principle canceled the test entirely.

Castle Bridge parent leader, Dao Tran, sent the following letter to education expert Diane Ravitch, who posted it on her blog:

Statement of Castle Bridge School Parents on New State-Mandated K–2 Testing

October 28, 2013

When we first heard in September that the New York State Education Department was requiring some schools to give high-stakes, multiple-choice (bubble-in) tests for kindergarten through second-grade students, many of us were stunned. Tellingly, the tests are only given in English and we are a dual-language (Spanish/English) school.

We discovered (although we received no communication from our school district) these tests have nothing to do with identifying areas in which our children need help and support and everything to do with measuring their teachers’ supposed “value added,” in order to evaluate them.

However, we already have a “data system” that is far superior to anything a commercial bubble-test provider can offer.

Our children’s teachers provide us with rich, insightful narratives telling us how our children are responding to their thoughtfully designed curriculum, what progress they are making, and what challenges they are working to meet. They might include a story about how a child helped a classmate, overcame a fear, or showed a passion for an activity or experience. This gives us a much better sense of the value their teachers are adding than knowing which quartile a child falls into on a standardized test.

In a school such as ours, where the sounds of happy children engaged in hands-on projects, serious problem- solving, play, and singing is often heard, the threat of a multiple-choice test—bringing with it fear, stress, and the testing protocols that penalize collaboration—could not go unchallenged. Our children are not data points!

We knew even if a few individuals opted their individual children out, if teachers were forced to administer these tests, class instruction time would nevertheless be impacted. We prefer teachers use school time to encourage children to be curious and love learning—teaching to the child, not to the tests.

Opting our children out in large numbers was the only way to protect them while sending a strong message to policymakers that excessive testing is not in our children’s—or school’s—best interests.

As of this writing, families have opted out 93 of the 97 students who would have been subject to the tests and we know of none who want their child tested. Our principal Julie Zuckerman, having a supportive approach to parental input, heard our concerns and canceled the test.

Over the last decade, there has been a shift in public school instruction to support test preparation and erodes the quality of education. Using the scores from exams to determine the effectiveness of teachers elevates the importance of these exams—which give only a snapshot of a student’s ability to perform—to a level of absurdity.

The K–2 high-stakes tests take excessive testing to its extreme: testing children as young as four serves no meaningful educative purpose and is developmentally destructive.
Imagine if all the resources spent on test development, administration, and scoring were allocated to fund enrichment programs, school infrastructure, and staffing, we would be closer to meeting the actual needs of school communities. By refusing these tests, the message we sent was threefold:

1. To the city and state Departments of Education: testing K–2 children is not acceptable and developmentally inappropriate, excessive, and destructive.

2. To our children’s teachers and principal: we know that you can evaluate our students and help them learn and grow better than any test and we want no part of punitive evaluations of your work.

3. To other families of children in the NYC public school system: Your voice matters and you have the power to prevent your children from having to prepare for and take these unsound tests.

We hope that by saying no to these standardized, high-stakes tests we will embolden others to do the same and that together, we can reverse the tide of excessive testing in our public schools. Schools should not resemble machines that seek to track and sort children or to surveil and punish teachers.

Rather they should be caring communities of joy and learning where teachers, administrators, and parents work together to ensure a high- quality education for all children—who to us mean much more than a score.

Elizabeth G. Hines is AlterNet's education editor and the co-author of Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire.

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