An open letter to parents,
Over the next few weeks, children will spend countless hours taking new tests that have no meaning. As a parent, I’ve decided that my sixth grade daughter will not be one of them.
The new test, called the SBAC in some states and PARCC in others, goes hand-in-hand with the new national Common Core State Standards that have been adopted in about 45 states.
The Common Core standards detail what some believe every child should know and when. They are more than 80% consistent with existing high standards in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, and others. In many places, the adoption of high standards is not the issue of most parents and teachers’ concerns. It’s the implementation of the Common Core that warrants serious attention.
Educators are working feverishly to rewrite curriculum, prepare new lesson plans, and shift standards in a way that is meaningful to kids. Some standards may be inappropriate for the earlier grades and others seek to teach a 5th grader what was formerly taught to 8th graders. Some adjustments may need to be made. Implementing the new national standards will simply take more time than the State and U.S. departments of education have the patience to provide.
Overall the problems seem fixable over time and with some additional state-specific reviews and revisions, the standards themselves can become more reasonable.
What is unreasonable is the unyielding imposition of the related SBAC field tests when these new standards are barely underway. Most sixth graders today will have spent barely 25% of their time in school learning the new standards; tenth graders only about 15%. Yet the state is compelling children to take the SBAC field test on material they might not have even learned yet. In places where results have been released, the scores have been predictably abysmal – sending a message of failure to children. You can’t teach someone basketball and then put them on a baseball field and expect the same result. Even Michael Jordan knows that.
What is unreasonable is for State Department of Educations’ insistence that all school children take the experimental SBAC test when the results will be meaningless. The SBAC field test is about troubleshooting the test. That means that the results – if when they are released – will not be valid. Consequently, all of the time and effort spent on the test will do absolutely nothing to help children learn.
SBAC testing companies say that they require about twenty percent participation statewide to suit their “test the test” objective. Yet states like Connecticut, which will pay somewhere around $22-$27 per student to these testing companies, are pressuring school districts and parents to drive children’s participation rates far in excess of this need.
Shouldn’t the testing companies that are designing and profiting from these trial tests be paying the states for this benefit? Shouldn’t parents have a right to say “no” just like we do when pharmaceutical companies want to test new drugs?
What is also unreasonable are the state education departments’ misstatements of state and federal law. They are purposely designed to scare parents out of making choices that are in the best interest of their children. Let’s get the facts straight. The federal law often cited by states – the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) – does not require students to take tests; could you imagine the national uproar if it had? The truth is that under the threat of financial penalty, NCLB requires states to administer tests and for the tests to be available to all children – a distinction with a significant difference. Neither state nor federal law requires parents to have their children tested and neither prohibits parents from choosing to exclude their child from testing.
State Education Departments know all this, but have decided to exceed their authority and make parents jump through hoops to exercise their rights. As a parent, I won’t be deterred and other like-minded parents should not be either.
There are simply more beneficial things for my daughter and me to do during the multiple hours of SBAC testing. We can visit a museum or library. Maybe we will tour the State Capital where we can observe participatory democracy and what it means to stand up for a cause. We could stand up for ours. You could too. It’s your right.
Lastly, our decades-long obsession with high-stakes testing must be confronted before it does more damage on the future creativity, innovation, and critical thinking of our youth.
A Connecticut Parent