National Rebellion Against High-Stakes Testing in the US

A national rebellion has developed in the United States against high stakes testing. The October issue of FairTest Examiner documents the extent of the rebellion.

A national grassroots rebellion against high-stakes testing is providing an important opportunity to change the testing landscape. Hundreds of school boards have now passed resolutions loudly stating, “Enough is enough.” Parents groups are rallying to provide support. Test boycotts are expanding. Academic researchers are increasingly speaking out. The growing resistance is attracting increased attention from policymakers and the media. As the scope of the opposition expands, some local organizers are focusing on winning policy changes in their states and communities.

Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott sparked the revolt in January, saying publicly that high-stakes exams are a “perversion.” It quickly spread to Texas school boards, whose resolution stating that tests were “strangling’ education” gained hundreds of endorsements within weeks. FairTest then organized a dozen other education, civil rights, and religious groups to launch the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. Groups of parents, students, teachers, principals, school board members and education researchers from around the nation endorsed similar statements. All decry the way high-stakes testing policies are harming our schools, teachers, students and families.

Here’s an update on the status of the high-stakes testing rebellion around the nation:

The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has more than 13,500 individual and almost 450 organizational endorsers. It calls on the U.S. Congress and Administration “to overhaul [NCLB,] reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.” The Pennsylvania School Boards Association as well as individual boards in Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Virginia endorsed it. Florida activists adopted their own versions, and the Florida School Board Association passed a variation at its annual conference in the spring. The National Parent Teacher Association said the resolution is consistent with its policy positions. Regional groups continue to announce new initiatives based on the Resolution, including the Massachusetts group Citizens for Public Schools.

The Texas school board resolution has been endorsed by more than 830 school districts representing more than 4.3 million – 88% – of all Texas public school students.

Top-down testing mandates, in large part, drove Chicago teachers to strike. The teachers’ arguments were bolstered by 88 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities who had signed an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposing the city’s plan for using student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals. The letter said, “The new evaluation system… centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children.” More than 1,100 New York researchers endorsed a similar letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

A letter protesting New York State’s teacher evaluation policy and its reliance on student test scores has been signed by 1,512 principals from urban, suburban and rural schools, more than one-third of all New York principals.

The nation’s second largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, unanimously adopted a resolution at its annual convention saying the focus on standardized testing has undermined education. The National Education Association has approved similar resolutions in the past.

The Niagara (NY) Regional Parent Teacher Association passed an emergency resolution in late September. It says, “The intent of this resolution is to ask the State Education Department to suspend its testing program until such time as it can create a new one that reliably measures educational progress without harming children and lowering the quality of education.” The resolution will be submitted to the New York State PTA convention in November.

Parent groups in a number of states, including Colorado, California and New York, that helped parents opt their children out of last spring’s tests are planning to continue and expand their boycotts .

At the local level, it is possible to achieve concrete changes, such as halting the proliferation of “interim” or “benchmark” tests imposed by districts beyond state or federal mandates. For example, a Texas superintendent said her district would no longer celebrate exam scores, hold test prep rallies, or otherwise focus on them. Winning changes against entrenched state and federal high-stakes testing policies will be a longer, harder task. But the upsurge in opposition to destructive high-stakes testing increases the likelihood of such victories.

FairTest urges concerned citizens and organizations to keep the rebellion alive in their communities, to talk it up with their friends, family and colleagues, and to approach school boards, parent teacher organizations, and other organizations for support. Visit FairTest’s web site for fact sheets, papers and other materials you can use in these efforts.

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