A parent rebellion against high stakes standardised tests is growing in the United States. Many parents are opting to keep their children home while tests are on this year. They say that the tests are distorting the curriculum and teaching and do not measure student ability or school quality.
An article on the New York Times website this week reports on the protest movement in New York and across the country. It reports that parents are organising to share information, discuss the harm done by the tests and asking other parents and educators to join their cause.
Standardised English and mathematics tests for 3rd to 8th grade students in New York began this week. They are used to determining middle and high school applications, placement into gifted and talented programs and in teacher and school evaluations. The tests are also used under Federal legislation to determine whether schools are failing and should be restructured or closed.
Just as in Australia in the lead-up to the NAPLAN tests in mid-May, New York schools have substituted test preparation for projects and essays for weeks and months. Children are taught testing strategies and how to do multiple choice questions.
Parents are increasingly saying enough is enough. They object to the narrowing of the curriculum. They want their children to have an all-round education. They want their children to have creative learning experiences. They want their children to do projects, essays, demonstrations, and oral presentations instead of practising for tests. They don’t want teachers to be evaluated on the basis of a test score. They do not want the future of their school to be determined on the basis of a test score.
One New York parent who is withdrawing his child from the tests said:
Learning in our schools has become a matter of meeting static, arbitrary and superficial ‘standards’ rather than engaging in the dynamic, endlessly creative process of discovery that children come into the world eager to embark on.
Another said he plans to keep his son out of school during the testing period because he feels the test has been “destructive” to the curriculum. “It’s like a cancer,” he said. “It takes away from all the other areas that are important to our kids, such as arts and physical education.
The new boycott movement in New York is part of a nationwide wave of protests against standardised testing. In Texas, 300 school districts with around 1.5 million students have passed a resolution in the last two months saying standardized testing is “strangling” their schools. At a school in Seattle, more than 25 percent of children won’t be taking the tests at the end of April, according to the Seattle Times. Washington state education officials said that parents have never before pulled their children out of testing on this large scale. A school in California where the majority of parents have opted out have made a film about their experience.
Several websites and Facebook groups have set up to connect parents and educators and to promote opting out of the tests. Websites include: United Opt Out ; Opt Out of Standardized Tests ; Time Out From Testing ; Change the Stakes ;PencilsDown and the Bartelby Project.
Facebook groups have set up in several states including New York ; Texas ; Vermont and Florida. Other Facebook groups supporting opting out include The 6% Club and Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing.
Timothy Slekar, an associate professor of teacher education at Penn State Altoona and one of the founders of United Opt Out told the New York Times that data from standardised tests is being used to persuade the public to go along with what he describes as the corporate-driven reform movement. He said that opting out of the tests is a way to hit that movement where it hurts. “Without data, it can’t go forward.”
Since the creation of the My School website in Australia which reports the school-by-school NAPLAN results, NAPLAN has turned into a high stakes testing regime. The NAPLAN tests in May each year are now the equivalent of Year 12 exams for schools. School reputations and the careers of teachers and principals are now dependent on NAPLAN. The consequences for education are the same as in the US – narrowing of the curriculum and distortion of classroom teaching as more and more time is spent on practising for tests. It seems we need a boycott movement against NAPLAN as well.