01 April 2014

Standardized Testing and Civil Disobedience

Every year, everywhere, there's back to school night. It's a chance to see the classroom, peer into your kid's desk, meet the other class parents, and hear what the teacher has to say. Last year, at the beginning of fourth grade, a parent asked about standardized tests. The teacher, a wonderful, caring veteran of many years said something that day that has stuck with me. She made it clear that because of the way the state ELA and math tests are administered, there's no feedback loop for the teacher. While, sometime after the children are no longer her students, she will know who got 1, 2, 3, or 4 on the exams, she doesn't know what kid got what question wrong, or that everyone in the class got question #37 wrong. Without that feedback, she has no way to improve on her teaching. Similarly, for the students (and their parents), the raw score labels the child a 1, 2, 3 or 4 and offers no information as to a child's strengths or weaknesses.

When the state tests rolled around last year, my child and my husband and I talked about the issues surrounding the tests, and about whether it made sense to have her refuse to take them. Last year, we were sheep: she took the test.

This year, she refused. And according to the conversation I had with the principal yesterday, she was the only child in her middle school to refuse.

There were many things we considered while making the decision that she would refuse the test. But what I kept coming back to was that issue raised by the fourth grade teacher: the lack of a feedback loop. If there's nothing to be learned from taking the test, then why take it?

Furthermore, we live in a high-performing district, and our child did well on the tests last year. If I were in a lousy district with a kid who tests badly, I'd be seen as wanting to avoid putting my child in an unhappy situation. But that's not it at all, and in fact, I think that the wealthy, well-performing districts should be leading the way in pushing for the kinds of education reforms that will help everyone.

To be sure, our small act of civil disobedience will not have much impact on our child, her teachers, or our district. But for us, it was the right thing to do.

If you are interested in some further reading, here are some pieces that helped us to make our decision. And yes, I made the ten year old read all of these. I wanted her to be conversant in the issues in case anyone asked her why she was reading a book in the guidance office instead of filling in ovals with a #2 pencil.


Lollipop Goldstein said...

Whoa... I didn't even know you could refuse. The G/T tests, yes. But I didn't think we could refuse the mandatory state ones.

Ours are even worse: the kids took the test for the old curriculum that they never saw. (They switched over to the new curriculum two years ago.) They are also taking the new test that goes with the new curriculum, but they will never see those scores. So the test that may actually tell us something about how our child is ingesting the current curriculum isn't being graded (at least, not for parents/kid/teacher use), and the test that we are receiving feedback from is testing on material they've never encountered.

Our superintendent went to bat for us, trying to get us out of taking these tests this year, but the state said we had to stick to the testing schedule.

If I had known, I may have asked the twins what they think about sitting out.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

Just looked up our state. It sounds like the detriments to the child (less information for determining class placement and class groups, no diploma at graduation, school can lose funding if more than 5% of the school doesn't take the test) in our state outweigh the annoyance of taking a standardized test that gives us no information. I would never want to do anything that could hurt the school itself, which is wonderful. As is our whole school district.

So... probably wouldn't consider sitting it out based on where we live. But it's an interesting thought to hear what is happening in NY.

Jennifer Denise Ouellette said...

Kudos to you. I have done it on occasion and would opt out completely now if my kids were younger. You're right that affluent districts need to lead the charge on this.