Point of View

Opting out of standardized testing in NC

March 9, 2014 

This spring, across the nation, tens of thousands of families will say “enough” to the high-stakes, standardized testing that has done such great damage to American public schools in recent years.

Ours will be among them.

We have informed the principals at our sons’ schools that our boys will not participate in this year’s End of Grade tests and North Carolina Final Exams.

Study after study has detailed the multifaceted damage caused by high-stakes testing, from the narrowing of school curricula to the elimination of time for art and music to the spread of the mind-numbing strategy of teaching to the test.

These studies include strong evidence that the greatest harm has come to special education students and low-income children of color. They make it clear that out-of-control testing has done nothing to improve national achievement levels. Still, the tests keep multiplying, and the stakes keep rising.

No one wins here but the testing companies. Parents need to take a stronger stand.

In the years that our sons have been in public school, we have seen first-hand the corrosive effects of this testing. We have felt the palpable tension in hallways and classrooms in the weeks leading up to test time. We have seen art, music, P.E., English language learning and other “extras” canceled so that teachers can administer tests. We have held the hands of struggling 8-year-olds who whimper at the prospect of “failing” and never making it to college. We have met with parents and pediatricians who fret over the stress children feel at such a young age, shouldering the burden of being defined as a score.

Closer to home, we have seen our bright, creative sons start to lose interest in school, worn down by the rote worksheets, pre-tests and practice tests these high-stakes exams have spawned. One of us had to move a son to private school for part of this year after he repeatedly begged to leave the public school that was sucking the life out of his gifted and curious mind. Death by worksheet.

As involved parents who are deeply concerned about our children and the quality of their educational experience, we have determined that it is both our right and our responsibility to remove them from this testing process.

State school board policies state that “all students shall take the test.” However, the Supreme Court has affirmed that the Constitution gives parents the right to make key decisions about their children’s education, even when those decisions conflict with state requirements.

We do not take this step lightly. We hold great respect for state institutions such as our public school system and all those who make it thrive. We applaud the federal government’s role in arenas such as civil rights, women’s rights and school desegregation.

Public education is a cornerstone of American democracy. We want to keep our sons in public schools. So rather than simply turning to alternatives, we have chosen to stand and fight. We welcome other North Carolina families to stand with us.

We are not opposed to assessment and evaluation. We want our children to attend excellent schools and be taught by excellent teachers. But the junk science that underlies so much of the current testing mania – from the false claims that standardized exams can genuinely measure critical and creative thinking to the inexact and highly unreliable “value-added” scores now being used to evaluate teachers – is not going to get us there.

Our schools need a system of fewer, higher quality assessments that are performance-based and that inform instruction rather than reward or punish. Implementing such a system will require action at both state and federal levels.

State legislators will need to end state-mandated consequences based on standardized test scores – most notably the high-stakes requirements of the problematic “Read to Achieve” program and the simplistic and misleading A-F school grading process. Federal representatives will need to overhaul federal policies that currently mandate a plethora of debilitating tests and evaluations.

We enthusiastically support the Network for Public Education’s recent call for Congress to hold hearings on the misuse of standardized tests across the country. We urge all North Carolinians who are concerned about high-stakes testing to encourage their state and federal representatives to advocate for needed changes.

Opting out is, of course, just a single step toward this better system. But reaching such ambitious goals promises to be a long journey. Sometimes a single step is where you have to start.

Ilina Ewen is the mother of fifth- and third-graders in Wake County. Pamela Grundy is the mother of a seventh-grader in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and co-chair of the education advocacy group MecklenburgACTS.org.

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