Last Thursday night I addressed the Littleton School Board. See video here. Here are my comments.
My name is Peggy Robertson. My son, Sam, is a sophomore at Littleton High School. I am a teacher in the Aurora Public School District and I am also one of the founders of United Opt Out National, an activist group which works hard to end the privatization of public schools. I want to thank all of you tonight for doing your civic duty to support public schools and to support children, teachers, and the communities within the Littleton School District.
Tonight I want to talk about the truth. I want to talk about what is really happening in our public schools today and I am going to ask that everyone here consider this truth, and consider our civic duty, our moral obligation, to expose this truth and educate the Littleton school community.
The truth is this. The truth is that our public schools are using high stakes testing to punish students, school communities and now, under SB191, the testing will punish teachers. The testing creates an environment that is fear-based, shaming, and demands teaching to the test. In Aurora, where I work as a literacy coach at an elementary school, I have had only 4 weeks of the year which were uninterrupted by testing. The tests consume our year and create a system which develops compliant test takers. These tests deny our children authentic learning experiences. They deny our teachers the ability to teach.
I would ask that the school board and the administrators take a lead in exposing this testing profit machine for what it is. It is a system that profits corporations on the backs of children and teachers. The common core standards and the national tests are a cash cow for the corporations. The profit of the testing industry has increased 57% in the last three years. Under SB191, this system will demand teaching to the test like never before. These high stakes testing mandates reward only the very privileged – yet even these rewards are hallow – as these test scores simply point to zipcode.
Littleton Public Schools has done quite well under this high stakes testing regime. Children from affluent neighborhoods often do well on these high stakes tests. It doesn't mean that these children are smarter than other children, it simply means that they come from homes filled with books. Homes where food is plentiful. And typically, homes where family and the community have the resources to create a support system to help these children as they grow into problem-solving citizens.
As you know, Littleton Public Schools was accredited with distinction by the CDE this past year. We continue to achieve high test scores and we continue to ensure high real estate values. These test scores mean nothing. They assess narrow learning. They are racially and culturally biased. And under PARCC, the READ Act, and CMAS social studies and science, these tests are denying our children real learning opportunities. It is anticipated that PARCC will fail 70% of Colorado’s children. These high stakes tests inflict the most harm on our neediest children: our children with exceptional needs, our children who suffer from emotional stresses, our second language learners, and our children who live in poverty.
My son's high school, Littleton HS, has a free/reduced lunch rate of approximately 26%. I wonder how those children will do on the PARCC test? I wonder if they will receive the elective credit for PARCC that my son's high school is offering? How can it be just and right to offer bribery - elective credit - for a test that is not yet even valid or reliable? A test that simply profits corporations and rewards the very privileged? The school where I teach in Aurora has a 76% free and reduced lunch rate. Over 40 languages are spoken in my school. Our children are brilliant. They are creative. Our teachers are phenomenal. Imagine trying to teach in a fear-based environment with hungry, smart children who speak multiple languages. Imagine trying to do right by these children in a fear-based environment which rewards only the privileged. We also have 60 homeless children. I wonder how my students in Aurora will do on PARCC - a test that is two grade levels above the readability for the grade being tested? A test that demands typing skills from children who don't know how to type. A test that punishes children who don’t have technology in their homes. I know how my students have done on TCAP in the past. I know that my school is labeled as a turnaround school. I know what that label does to children, teachers and school communities. I wonder if Littleton could possible understand what that feels like? What that does to a child's soul? To a school community? To be told we are failing when indeed we are not.
Privilege is an amazing thing. It can be used to help and it can be used to harm. It is time that Littleton stood on the right side of history. Let's use our privilege to expose the truth - the educational malpractice that is occurring across our district and all of Colorado at the hands of these unjust mandates. If you watch the news, there are principals, school board members, and superintendents all over the country sharing the harms of high stakes testing. Tell the public the truth. PARCC is being used to fail children, teachers, and school communities. PARCC, CMAS, testing under the READ Act are making lives miserable for teachers and students. Teachers cannot teach and children cannot learn in meaningful ways under these harsh conditions. I have refused to administer the PARCC in Aurora. I refuse to allow my son to take PARCC or any other high stakes tests that can be used to punish and fail children. I trust Sam's teachers to assess my son. It is our civic duty to speak the truth and end this educational malpractice. Teachers know how to assess. Students want to be engaged in purposeful authentic learning – not online test prep and online testing. On Littleton High School's website it asks that I contact my legislators. Right now, the legislature is nothing but political theater. It is time for our district and our parents to stand up and make the legislators listen to us.
There is no penalty for opt out this year. There is no loss of federal funding. I recommend that the school board share that information with Littleton parents. If parents understand that there is no penalty, and if they understand how PARCC and other high stakes tests are being used to deny our children real learning opportunities, many parents will refuse to allow their children to take these tests. Many parents will use their privilege to save public schools for the common good. We must demand that our legislators change policies to funnel money to support schools with wrap around services for poverty, small class size, librarians, nurses, counselors, and more. We must protect our teachers from the harmful effects of SB191 which could indeed tie 50% of our evaluation to these test scores. Be a leader in this movement to restore real learning to our classrooms and demand equitable funding for our public schools.