NEA Launches Campaign to End ‘Toxic Testing’

Delegates to the National Education Association’s annual meeting in July voted to launch a national campaign to put the focus of assessments and accountability back on student learning and end the “test blame and punish” system that has dominated public eduction in the last decade. The campaign will among other things seek to end the abuse and overuse of high stakes standardized tests and reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by them.

The anti-toxic testing measure also calls for governmental oversight of the powerful testing industry with the creation of a “testing ombudsman” by the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. The position will serve as a watchdog over the influential testing industry and monitor testing companies’ impact on education legislation. NEA will continue to push the president and Congress to completely overhaul ESEA and end mandates that require yearly testing, and to lift mandates requiring states to administer outdated tests that aren’t aligned to school curricula.

“It’s past time for politicians to turn their eyes and ears away from those who profit from over-testing our students and listen instead to those who know what works in the classroom,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

The new measure comes at a time when parents around the country are also fed up with the testing obsession. Opting-out protests have taken place in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Alabama and other states. Grassroots parent movements say they will protest until overtesting is curbed.

David Valdes Greenwood is a Massachusetts parent of a third-grader. He says his daughter Lily has been stressed about tests since kindergarten.

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“The kids pay a very high price. It chips away at their sense of selves as learners from a young age; telling them that there is one way to learn and boxing them into narrow ways of seeing their skills and their contributions.”

The impact of excessive testing is particularly harmful to many poor, minority and special needs students.  As much as 30 percent of the school year is spent testing and focusing on reaching a specific cut score on one day of the year.  The over-emphasis on standardized test scores crowds out access to other courses and curriculum opportunities for students.  Furthermore, proponents of this test-based accountability regime have argued that the test data would drive policy makers to supply resources and supports to struggling students.  Yet year after year, school budgets have been slashed, programs like extended learning time programs have disappeared, and the Administration’s own “school improvement” funding is running out.  So, the millions of dollars spent on testing contracts have squeezed out opportunities and support for the students who need it the most.

To add insult to injury, students in already under-resourced schools are subjected to fewer opportunities to access richer curriculum and course offerings to prepare for college or careers–a discriminatory impact of the test-based accountability regime.

This country has refused to adequately fund schools attended by low-income kids. Poverty, constant mobility, lack of adequate health care, the stresses of crime, living in near constant fear of violence—all of these have a major impact on learning and is far more than schools can tackle alone. Education plays an enormous role in lifting people out of poverty, but to hold educators solely accountable for the impact poverty has on current students—and to do so using test scores—defeats the goal.

Yet more and more states around the country are tying a high percentage—as much as 50 percent—of teacher evaluations to students’ standardized test results. For many teachers, those evaluations are linked to the performance of students and subjects they don’t even teach.

Educators support high standards for all students and being held accountable for high quality instructional practice, something that can’t be measured by students’ standardized test scores. More and more educators are leading the way toward ensuring the highest quality work forces by working collaboratively with school districts to establish residency programs, mentoring programs, and peer assistance and review programs to evaluate instructional practice.

This is what educators can control — their practice. They don’t control whether districts and states are making a real attempt to eliminate the record levels of child poverty.  Educators cannot alone make up for a student’ slack of access to healthcare, or unstable housing circumstance, or lack of early childhood education.  NEA members know we need to address quality inside the school building and poverty outside the school building if we are to see real improvements in student learning.

That’s why NEA is also calling on lawmakers to repeal federal requirements that state standardized tests be used to evaluate educators and implement “real accountability in our public education system,” said Van Roekel. “Educators know that real accountability in public schools requires all stakeholders to place student needs, not profits, at the center of all efforts. As education professionals, we fully accept the great responsibility to always raise our standards of practice and place students’ needs first.”

Van Roekel insists that in order for real, sustainable change to occur in public education, major work must be done to address the growing inequality in opportunities and resources for students across our nation. “Poverty and social inequities have far too long stood in the way of progress for all students,” said Van Roekel.

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  • Frances ONeill

    I am totally for this movement. We have been teaching to the tests for too long. they mean very little except to make the test makers rich.

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  • Mireille Ellsworth

    I would like to know what benefits people see in Common Core standards, and please don’t generalize, like “they promote critical thinking.” Give me a specific standard or an overview of what is good specifically about the range of the standards. Be specific about subject area and grade level and how you see the standards helping the students. Also include specifically how it DIFFERS from pre-Common Core teaching conditions. Lily mentioned that she likes Common Core because that’s how she always taught, and I have heard that from many teachers, so why are we considering this a “reform”? LET’S NOT SHY AWAY FROM THESE IMPORTANT TYPES OF DISCUSSIONS! Coming to a consensus is messy but necessary work!

  • We will never get out from under with regard to our public schools reflecting the inequalities of our nation so long as we fund our schools through property taxes. We need to stop that. It is why schools vary from neighborhood to neighborhood in our country…especially our cities. What we need are Presidents that can the tell Pentagon no. We have had back to back Presidents conducting war in faraway places that have zero to do with the safety and well being of our children. Our generals do not respect our leaders. Where there is no vision, the people perish. James Baldwin said that 50 some years ago and it rings loud in the 21st Century. We need to revalue our children and families when we make funding decisions in our nation. We had Presidents from both parties that actively looked out for children and their families in the past. Do we need 160,000 soldiers in Germany? Who is coming? The Russians. We argue about a 300 million dollar levy in my school district and generals spend that in 6-7 days in Afghanistan. Generals get what they want and our kids get more testing on computers. LEADERSHIP…folks. We have had 24 years in a row of lousy leadership and our schools reflect that. Cut defense spending across the board and fund schools across the nation with the money. Every school looks the same…every classroom has the same equipment…athletic facilities are equal…a person of vision with the backbone to stand up to our generals could do it…perhaps a woman. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Bob Marley said that. Do we have the political will to put our children first in this country? Do we????

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