Anti-testing Advocates Question Government Task Force

Published December 11, 2014

The Council of Chief State School Officers has announced upcoming efforts to reduce high-stakes testing in public schools, but anti-testing activists say the proposals, though a good step, are not enough. 

The council, which includes state education officials from across the nation, in October announced it will partner with major school districts to assess the usefulness and efficiency of current tests, with the goal of eliminating those it deems unnecessary. Members of the council are widely credited with being major players in the creation of the Common Core Standards. The CCSSO also identifies as jointly starting the Common Core initiative along with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, according to the council’s website.

The review effort will include assessments of district benchmarks and formative tests, but it currently gives no timeline. The council will give reports to the public, according to a press release from the CCSSO office.

‘Very Inadequate’

Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, says the statement by CCSO “is very inadequate.”

“There is far too much testing, and a couple with high stakes [are] causing serious damage to education,” he said. “[The task force] might modestly reduce testing, but it’s not backing off from the major cause, which is No Child Left Behind and waivers.”

Neill and other opponents of testing say the task force is responding to pressure from parents and teachers against the use of testing in public schools. One indication governments are responding to pressure is the legislation introduced by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) of H.R. 4172, the Student Testing Improvement & Accountability Act.

Neill said the task force should include in its proposal elements from the bill, which would require testing only in three grade spans and supports ending test-based punishments and sanctions in federal law against teachers.

‘Everybody Hates’ Testing

Robert Kimball, former Houston Independent School District vice principal and a grassroots school reform advocate, says he sees the move as a step in the right direction toward eliminating testing. Kimball’s book on dysfunction in the school system, Guns, Books, Lawsuits, and Civil Rights, will be released in December.

“Everybody hates it,” Kimball said about testing. “The kids hate it. The teachers hate it, the parents. Only the government supports it.”

The good news, he said, is the task force’s goal shows activists are creating change. “There are a whole lot of folks against it,” said Kimball. “There has been a lot of success by advocates and elected officials over the last ten years. And now the government is finally listening.”

‘The Pure Joy of Learning is Disappearing’

The CCSO proposal states schools will place less emphasis on test preparation and will include only tests based on college and career readiness standards.

But teachers like Marsha Griffin in Jonesboro, Illinois, feel that the entirety of Common Core standards and testing are detrimental to educating students. Griffin has started a petition against Common Core standards and testing in Illinois, which has almost 6,000 signatures.

“Due to the mandate to teach to the Common Core Learning Standards, the pure joy of learning is disappearing across the educational landscape in classrooms in the United States,” wrote Griffin on the petition.  “We the undersigned believe that a one-size-fits-all educational approach is wrong for students.”

Kimball said he receives many calls from teachers who are leaving the profession because of problems with standardized testing. “They are being told what to do and what to teach, even if it’s not what the students need,” he said.

Assessing the Assessments

“I’m not sure what assessments they would come up with to assess the assessment,” said Houston Federation of Teachers Executive Director Zeph Capo. He said he agrees with the effort to reduce the number of tests used inside the classroom.

“It’s quite harmful to students, as much as or more than to teachers, in that students are losing continuity of learning,” said Capo. He said most of the tests used in school districts are not used “in an appropriate way for teaching.”

“We are now testing four year olds, which is developmentally inappropriate,” Capo said. “We are turning kids off to learning.”

Leslie Contreras Schwartz ([email protected]) writes from Houston, Texas.

Image by biologycorner.