Friday, September 2, 2011

Why Opt Out of the State Test? A Better Question Might Be...Why Opt In?

How are public school children benefiting from the state test? I don't believe they are.  The corporate reformers currently running our public education system would like us to think the test is benefiting our children.  They’d like us to think like capitalists and race our way to the top, yet, in a system of public education – which is designed to provide a whole and equitable education to ALL children – when you begin racing, the economically disadvantaged children and those with special needs get left behind, and our democracy ceases to exist.

This year Colorado is planning to spend 49.5 million dollars on state testing according to the Assessment Solutions Group.  Standardized testing does not improve student achievement.  

With high stakes testing in place across our state, it becomes necessary for teachers to teach to the test.  If we want Colorado’s kids to be good test takers, rather than creative and critical thinkers who have been exposed to art, music, PE, and more, well then, our children should take the test. Students living in areas of poverty and high need will receive a larger dose of teaching to the test than the kids in suburbia.  Why?  Simple.  Teachers and administrators dealing with high stakes attached to testing (teacher evaluation and potential school closure) are going to focus on the test in order to salvage a school or a profession. A child’s test score becomes tied to the monetary funds the school and teacher receive – so in essence, the child is working for the school and the teacher – which is a definite violation of child labor laws. 

Remember recess?  Even in suburbia it is on the decline.  Why?  There’s simply no time for it, because we are Racing to the Top – and that includes five year olds.  Recently my neighbor informed me that her kindergartener did not get recess because there was simply too much curriculum to cover. Why are kindergarteners (and other grades) missing recess?  In order to get a jump-start on that state test of course.  As a former kindergarten teacher, I can promise you that back in the day, five-year-olds spent their days in kindergarten learning to socialize and stretch their limbs and their imaginations - that was the main curriculum.  Reading, writing and math all occurred as was developmentally appropriate.  Ask Alliance for Childhood about the state test - check and see just how developmentally appropriate our common core standards (which are tied to the state test) actually are - the quick answer - not so much.  

Why are we Racing to the Top?  Did any of us ever stop to wonder?  Is it really true that our nation's test scores are in the gutter?  Sure, if you look at the scores and account for poverty.  The United States has the second highest percentage of children living in poverty in industrialized nations.  If we take the poverty card out (free and reduced lunch), and look at our international NAEP scores, suddenly, our scores are quite good.  Poverty needs to be addressed. 

So, what’s wrong with taking a test?  We all had tests growing up, right?  Yes, we did, but we did not have as many tests growing up as we do today and the stakes were not as high.  Under Race to the Top, the testing regime will include more tests. 

The CDE states, “The attributes of the new system include: statewide summative assessment for grades 3-11 to measure math and reading and writing; statewide summative assessments in science and social studies at least once in elementary, middle and high school; school readiness measurements for grades preschool through grade 2; formative instructional supports and interim assessments; the Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP); an 11th-grade nationally recognized college placement assessment; and that the assessments are capable of being administered online where applicable and fiscally practicable.”  Note the words “fiscally practicable.”  Based on the financial cuts our schools have taken, what is “fiscally practicable?” 

I would also question the declaration, “If it’s a good test then teaching to the test is okay.”  I can’t imagine any standardized test being “good enough” to allow all curriculum and all class time to go towards teaching to the test.  A test that is distributed state-wide, by nature, must be somewhat easy to score – therefore, multiple choice and short responses, and ultimately tests online seem to be a good fit – at the expense of real thinking, real problem solving and exploration of all concepts and ideas outside the realm of the test.  No test is good enough to use as the sole indicator of student or school success – other indicators must be included to get a true picture of a child’s needs and strengths.  Indicators should include the teacher’s evaluation of the child.  Today’s teachers can tell us more about the children in their classrooms than any state test.  

What do the CSAP scores tell us?  They tell us which children are living in poverty.  Standardized state testing is a great indicator for determining poverty areas.  However, we already know where the poverty lies and we also know just how bad it is. 

Kids Count Colorado states, “For Colorado’s kids, the effects of the Great Recession have been both immediate and far-reaching. From 2008 to 2009, the number of children living in poverty in Colorado rose by 31,000, a jump from 15 to 17 percent. Forty-seven thousand more children were living in families where no parent had regular, full-time employment.1 Median annual income for families with children dropped from $65,800 to $64,000.2 More children were likely to commit suicide or be victims of abuse or neglect. Fewer teenagers graduated high school or found jobs. Since 2008, the number of unemployed teens increased by 14,000, rising from 60 percent to 65 percent in Colorado.3 More children were likely to experience homelessness, hunger, food insecurity and obesity. These are the realities for many Colorado children of the Great Recession.”  

The state test also tells us if students are getting better at taking the test.  The test is not a one shot, here it is – poof - now it’s gone - sort of gypsy show traveling through town.  Oh no – make no mistake - it’s a David Copperfield show.  It is practiced and practiced and practiced so that it will succeed if at all possible.  CSAP rally calls fill the schools. Students are given treats to encourage and entice them to do well on the test. Unfortunately, we are not magicians.  Colorado’s children come with varying experience, ethnicities, economic levels and talents. We can practice for the test every single day of the year – but if our children have minimal access to books, food and healthcare, as well as language barriers, it is doubtful that they will perform well on the test.  

Poverty is the problem, yet no one is willing to tackle it, let alone acknowledge it.

However, we have an abundance of money to throw at tests.  Interesting isn’t it?  In a state where between 2000 and 2009, our child poverty rate was the fastest growing in the nation, we are able to feed them more tests, but unfortunately they still lack food, shelter and more.  And school budgets are cut everywhere – staff is let go, schools are closed, class sizes increase, yet…we have 49.5 million for the test???

I’m also asked, but…if our kids don’t take these tests – how will they ever perform well on the ACT or SAT?  First off, many colleges no longer require those tests.  Secondly, I believe I took the ACT and SAT, without having tests rammed down my throat my entire educational career and guess what?  I survived, and I am not a good test taker.  I think what prepared me for the test was a public education full of diverse thinking, creativity and the freedom to explore past the test.  Seriously – do we have such little faith in our children and our teachers who teach them?  

The clincher question is this one…Won’t my school lose funding if I opt my child out of the test?  

The answer is no.   Find me a school in Colorado that lost funding due to children not taking the test.  It’s important to know that not only can you opt out, but when you do, it does not count as a “zero” for the school. It counts as nonparticipatory and nothing more.  Therefore, it cannot effect the funding of your school.  It can effect the accreditation of your school, but again, find me a school in the nation that lost its accreditation due to students not participating in the test.  They don’t exist.

What you will find, nationwide, is schools that have been shut down due to low test scores.  These schools are notoriously in high need, high poverty areas.  These schools are then taken over by the private sector; charter schools move in and corporate reformers move in and fill these schools with new teachers (many without actual teaching degrees).  These schools have very loose regulations – charter folks actually move to Colorado due to our loose regulations.  For many of these schools anything goes, at the expense of children’s education – and they can exclude or include – their choice.  Charter schools are not required to allow all children entry.

I’m not okay with Colorado’s kids being reduced to a test score.  I consider the current deprivation occurring in our public schools to be abusive.  I am not okay with children being denied recess and fine arts.  I am not okay with test prep taking priority over creative and critical thinking.  

What has happened to us?  Have we become complacent?  Brainwashed?  Exhausted?  All of the above?  Are we going to just sit back and say, yes to the test?  TAKE our children.  FEED them the test and nothing more.  FEED them short answers, multiple choice and test rally calls.  Forget child development – forget that five year olds need to move, jump, run and play. Should we accept more cuts to education while hanging on to the test - at the cost of 49.5 million?

Finland, one of the top education systems in the world, would say, NO.  

 Just ask a teacher in Finland
·        where children aren’t expected to show up at school until the age of seven. 
·        where teachers are held in high esteem and respected and trusted. 
·        where teachers actually assess and evaluate students, teachers and schools. 
·        where teachers are required to have bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. 
·        where there are no mandated standardized tests except for one at the end of a student’s senior year in high school

Ask President Obama about his daughters’ school, where there is no mandated state standardized testing, and where, quite honestly, school sounds a lot like Finland.  

And then, think hard about what’s important, and opt out.  Quit racing to the top with the corporate reformers.  Their pockets are filling up faster and faster. They are racing and they are WINNING – not our children.  We will never get to the top because our children are dragging a boulder tied to their feet - it’s called the standardized state test. Let it go, and let our children create and grow again.  Opt out. Join us at United Opt Out National to find out how. All children have a right to a whole and equitable education in our democracy.  Let’s bring it back to them.


  1. Really like your post. I have been investigating doing this for my son this year. The ISAT testing is not appropriate testing for him and is not in any way a measure of his knowledge. It bothers me that his school and his teachers are judged by this each year and I think we've had enough of it.

  2. Check out a national movement to assist parents in Opting out of high stakes testing.