National Movement to Curb High-Stakes Testing Gains Momentum

Tens of thousands of activists are joining forces this spring to stop the high-stakes use of standardized tests and reduce the number of standardized exams to save time and money for actual classroom instruction.

The growing movement to end the testing obsession got a major boost in March when U.S. Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)  introduced the “Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act” (HR-4171). This bill brings commonsense reform to the over-testing currently required by No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and opens the door to a better system of accountability that puts student learning at the forefront. The bill would reduce the number of federally mandated statewide math and reading tests from 14 to six. Current federal law requires yearly statewide standardized testing in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. This is the first time since the passage of NCLB that a House bill has been introduced to reduce the federal testing mandates.

“The National Education Association and its 3 million members applaud Representatives Gibson and Sinema for listening to the growing chorus of voices from parents, teachers, students, and entire communities expressing concern about the detrimental effects and harm caused by the overuse and misuse of high-stakes standardized testing,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “The federal testing mandates, combined with state and district level assessments, have snowballed to create the feeling that our schools are not centers of learning, but rather are test-prep factories.”

On March 31, just as high-stakes test season began, a crowd of 30,000 educators, parents and students converged on the capitol in Oklahoma City to demand an increase in education funding and a decrease in the barrage of standardized tests public school students endure every year.

‘My Job Left Me’
In February, Susan Sluyter, a talented kindergarten teacher in Cambridge, Mass. made the painful decision to quit the profession she loves after 25 years rather than continue to be demoralized by the testing regime.
“I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them,” Sluyter wrote in her resignation letter. “I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity. I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away. I felt anger rise inside me. I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly. I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me.”

“Testing Is Not Teaching” read one sign. “Testing: Too Much Time, Too Much Money” read another.

Doug Stafford, principal of Emerson Middle School in Oklahoma City, is concerned about the amount of time kids have to spend on testing as an educator as well as a parent. He says his school’s sixth-grade students spend about 27 hours being tested, seventh-graders spend about 18 hours being tested, and eighth-graders spend 17 hours being tested – totaling 92 hours of lost instruction time.

A poor test score can keep seniors from graduating and can force younger students to repeat a grade and everyone is feeling the pressure – educators whose performance is tied to test scores, parents dealing with stressed and overwhelmed kids at home, and the students themselves, exhausted from preparing and then sitting for lengthy test sessions.

“My eighth-graders take six standardized tests that they don’t get the results for until the next school year,” science teacher Tammy Delmedico told the Oklahoma Gazette. “I’m so busy preparing them for a test that I don’t get to teach.”

Jeffrey Corbett, president of the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association, is also fed up with the testing obsession.

“It is time for the era of standardized tests as a dominant force in education to end. It is time to return to creative, individualized education—and to do that; we must turn our classrooms back over to our teachers,” Corbett says. “It is time to take education out of the hands of testing companies. America spends $1.7 billion annually on standardized testing. What could be done if just half of those dollars were devoted to the classroom?”

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) has joined the movement with its “Teach the Students, Not the Test” campaign and has filed lawsuits over the misuse of high-stakes test scores in evaluating teacher performance.

TEA says the use of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which uses students’ growth on state assessments to evaluate teachers, is unconstitutional.

One suit was filed on behalf of Farragut Middle School eighth grade science teacher Mark Taylor, who was unfairly denied a bonus after his value-added estimate was based on the standardized test scores of 22 of his 142 students. TEA’s general counsel argues the state has violated Taylor’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection from “irrational state-imposed classifications” by using a small fraction of his students to determine his overall effectiveness.

“Mr. Taylor teaches four upper-level physical science courses and one regular eighth grade science class,” says Richard Colbert, TEA general counsel. “The students in the upper-level course take a locally developed end-of-course test in place of the state’s TCAP assessment. As a result, those high-performing students were not included in Mr. Taylor’s TVAAS estimate.”

As long as Tennessee continues to tie more high-stakes decisions to TVAAS estimates, TEA will continue to file lawsuits.

In Rhode Island, members of the National Education Association – Rhode Island (NEARI) voted unanimously to bring an immediate end to the use of New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests. Contradicting its own emphasis on rigorous standards, the Rhode Island Department of Education has now spent money on three different NECAP tests, allowed the use of 10 alternative tests, and allowed districts to develop waivers for students to meet their graduation requirements.

NEARI President Larry Purtill believes that the value of NECAP testing has been undermined by the wide availability of alternative testing.

“Now that RIDE has given the test three times, offered 10 alternative tests, and created a waiver system, it is quite clear that NECAP has lost any real educational purpose,” he says. “At what cost, both to students and taxpayers, have we instituted such relentless testing? It is time, starting today, for the Board of Education and RIDE to listen to educators, students and parents and stop charging forward blindly with a test that clearly is not working.”

Learn more about educators fighting the testing regime and how to get involved.