Ah, Testing - Here It Comes

 Update: here's what's happening in the white-hot capital of ed reform pushback - Chicago - around testing.  Chicago is just one of many cities in many states caught in this muddle between existing state tests and the coming Common Core assessments.  Why take both? 

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent a letter to parents on Wednesday telling them why they should not have their child opt-out of the ISAT and the NWEA/MAP tests, the second time in less than two months she has issued such a letter.

In a swift counter-move, parent groups that oppose high-stakes testing said the letters indicate that CPS leaders are worried about a growing resistance to standardized tests, with some parents saying their children spend too much class time on too many tests, with serious consequences tied to their outcome.

For the first time, the level of participation in the NWEA/MAP is part of the district's rating system for schools, with schools penalized if participation falls below 95 percent. In a separate letter to teachers, Byrd-Bennett points this out.

Now, according to the letter, students scoring above the 24th percentile on the NWEA/MAP will be eligible to test for selective enrollment high schools. Sharkey said the new standard is low because district officials are concerned about a lot of students doing poorly.
“These new Common Core assessments are brutal,” he said.

End of update.

I saw this in a comment and I thought I'd put it up:

My bigger concern is that the district seems to be "piloting" standardized tests that might replace MAP in some populations/schools, and not in others - and those kids still get to take MAP too! As a former test taker for cash (seriously! paid to test standardized tests!) I deeply resent having my child lose instruction time to take MORE standardized tests than other kids in the district. At last count I think he's at 9.

I urge EVERYONE reading this to actual send a written request to their child's teacher, cc'd to the principal, asking for a list of all standardized tests your child will take over the course of the year, how long each takes, how many times they take it, and what it is to be used for. I am finding that such a list does not apparently exist, or at least I'm getting a bit of a run around on getting an answer.
I understand a standardized test in the fall and again in the spring to track an individual student's progress, and I understand the state MSPs to track the district against all kids in the state, but a lot of kids are taking a lot more tests than that ... my kid has had at least 3 standardized math tests at this point that I know about, but I can't get a straight answer about how many total are planned for the year. What more can they learn about my child? How much actual math teaching is lost to these tests, which must just cover the same ground over and over?

The fact that despite asking twice, in writing, no teacher or administrator has actually provided me with a list of the standardized tests my child is expected to take this year is actually kind of scary. I'm giving it one more casual written request before I go the formal route.

Ask for the list from your school. See what you get as an answer. I won't be surprised if few/no schools actually have a spreadsheet or list they will provide upon request. 

That's a great question - how many tests are SPS students taking this year?  

Here's what Trish Milllines Dziko, founder and director of Technology Access Academy has to say (and boy, I love her frankness and am allowing some latitude because of it):

The madness of state testing is just getting worse!

When TAF Academy launched in 2008-2009 school year, our students took the WASL.

In the 2009-2010 school year the WASL was replaced by the MSP (measure of student progress) for K-8th grade and the HSPE (High School Proficiency Exam) for 9-12th grade.

In 2010-2011 the EOC1 (Algebra) and EOC2 (Geometry) exams replaced the math portion of the HSPE.

In 2011-2012 the EOCB (Biology) was introduced for high school to replace the science test.

Thankfully in 2012-2013 there were no changes and we actually could compare our students' progress from one year to the next in core subjects.

Well, now for the 2014-2015 school year the HSPE will be replaced by the Smarter Balanced test to measure reading and writing skills at 10th grade. However it is not yet clear how the state will approach current EOC math tests since Smarter Balanced also has a Math assessment attached to it.

WTF? We're doing all this and not one ounce of work on changing belief and behavior of adults. Not one ounce of work showing principals how to be academic leaders instead of building administrators. Not one ounce of work on creating academic environments where students can thrive and feel respected. Not one ounce of work on providing more effective support for teachers and staff.

Just keep on spending millions of dollars on stupid s*%t and the so called "achievement gap" will continue because we're nibbling around the edges instead of doing the real work!

And don't think for one minute charter schools won't be effected by this nonsense. For everything they have going for them, they are still bought into this high stakes testing bulls*%t that is killing our kids.


Anonymous said…
I have been wondering about this too. We have MAP three times a year in our school. Then to add insult to injury a couple weeks ago, my kiddo (7th grader) came home and said that she had taken a bubble test in math and in another one in LA. A bubble test? What the heck was that for? I have no idea. Sure sounds like another standardized test, doesn't it? No note home about it from the school either....

Opted- Outer said…

"WTF? We're doing all this and not one ounce of work on changing belief and behavior of adults"

I respectfully disagree with Trish. Some of us have been speaking out against excessive testing; it is just to hard to be heard above Gate's dollars.

Testing companies LOVE the money. Legislators are very busy in Olympia talking about tests, linking teacher effectiveness to test scores, measurability and other non-sense that is disconnected to the realities of our children.

Yet, millions will be spent. Millions that could have gone into our children's classrooms.

My 11 year old took 3 (yes- 3) end of the year math tests: MSP, MAP and District placement test. What the heck?

Melissa asks about testing. Well, check this out. Guaranteed to make your head dizzy.


Our children are being treated as guinea pigs. We're in untested (kind of funny) territory.
I will say this as gently and respectfully as I can.

Don't want your child to be a guinea pig? Don't be a sheep.

You can opt your child out of all it. Every single test (except if your child is in high school).

Yes, it might be an issue if you are trying to get into Advanced Learning(but I still think that is wrong/illegal to use the MAP).

But all those other tests? Say no.

It's happening in other districts in other states. NY State has a huge parent population that is saying no.

Feel helpless for your child? Feel the Board and district staff are not listening to parent concerns?

Opt-out of testing. Tell other parents to do the same.

You are NOT helpless.

I have opt-out letters and scripts about what to say if you are challenged.
Maje said…
I struggle with opting my kid out. She's in K and I think the tests are a waste of time for her - as does her teacher. However, if I opt her out then she'll just sit there at the table in the library doing coloring sheets or goofing off until enough kids are done to go back to class.

It's a waste of school time either way, but she's having some fun with her 'computer time' so we've let it go.
Anonymous said…
What about the MSP? What are the pros/cons of opting out of the MSP?

n said…
I keep sayin' . . . it's all about marketing. Trish oughta get that part of it.

I think admin has too much money to spend. I wish Seattleites would march for the schools and demand that the money reach the classroom instead of going for every program that marches in the door downtown.

There are no magic bullets.
Eric M said…
Yeah, n said. I get a budget of exactly $ 0.00 to teach my 5 college prep science classes. That works out to $ 0.00 per each of my 150 students. All of the thousands of dollars it costs to run my classes comes from parents. And me. But there's ALWAYS money for tests. It's very frustrating.
Again, don't wish for the district to change.

Be that change.
n said…
And get fired? Thanks a lot. We have three teachers being forced back onto comprehensive eval at my school. They are decades-long teachers and they're on their way out the door to whatever they can find to tide them over to sixty-62. As the research you posted showed, it isn't the teachers but they make great scapegoats.

Please, don't ask us for something we can't do. Even our union has been weakened. I'm only remaining a member on principle. Remember Reagan and the traffic controllers? We aren't the change. It has to start with the people who do business with the schools - their clients - the tax payers.
Christina said…
A book, Bad For You: Exposing the War Against Fun, by Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham, visited our home from the library. Its comic-book style cover and the title appealed to our sixth grader so he read it. The bits on the American school system: zero tolerance policies, standardized "high stakes" testing, heavy loads of homework, he read aloud to us as he grew indignant and peeved.

He's now convinced that opting out of future MAP sessions is the proper thing to do. I wonder if he's worked up about this to try sharing what he's learned with classmates.

WV: Lucerne! I used to live in Lucerne!
Po3 said…
I read in the Hale newsletter that students can sign up got the four hour long Smarter Balanced test and receive community service hours.

How weird is that?
N, I'm not advocating for teachers to do anything. I'm saying parents should. Sorry you missed that.

Po3, I'll have to ask about that. It would seem odd for a school to make that kind of determination for community "service" hours.
Lynn said…
Here's some relevant information from the Friday Memos. (Page two.)
Po3 said…
Actually I was wrong, it's DOUBLE service hours given out to take the test.

Seems very wrong to me.

page 5
Disgusted said…
No one is listening. Olympia is just tightening the noose.

Parents are told that it is importatant to monitor "growth". Parents are afraid to opt their children out of testing.
Anonymous said…
One small benefit I can find is that the schools might actually need to teach keyboarding (keyboarding as learning to touch type without looking at the keys) - the new SBAC tests are online, so no more booklets I find it strange that keyboarding is not offered in middle school.

As far as testing goes, we compromise by having our children take the yearly state tests (it's good to have some objective measure of performance), but we opt out of MAP testing unless it's needed for placement.

-partial opt-outer
Samantha said…
A Superintendent in New York spoke-out against Common Core. His influence had an enormous impact and he gained community support.

I just don't see Banda being this type of leader. Will he be the guy to accept a half baked roll-out plan that will lead to failure?
Anonymous said…
I am definitely not for more standardized testing. But many of the educational opportunities I've had came not because I was a good student (I wasn't) but because I am very good at taking standardized tests. Of course that shouldn't have been te case, but I don't think times have changed all that much. I believe that test taking skills can in large part be taught, and, unfortunately, I think my kid needs to learn those skills. As sad as this is, I don't feel like her time taking a ridiculous number of standardized tests is wasted. (It SHOULD be a waste of time, but is it?)

(Of course parents could opt out and teach these skills at home.)

Somewhat conflicted

Anonymous said…
from the original poster:

I agree that actually learning to take standardized tests is, lamentably, a valuable skill. Like I said, I paid for much college beer by being a semi-professional test-taker on Saturday mornings. The SAT and GRE sponsored many of my weekends back in the dark ages of bubble sheets.

Refining that test-taking skill does not require 9 or more opportunities a year. Dull for the successful kids, and incredibly frustrating and disengaging for the struggling ones (I have one of each).

I am in favor of a fall and a spring assessment, same program year to year, to track a child in a way that can be measured. Inaccurate for some, but accurate for some, and does develop test-taking skills. I'm also in favor of the state mandated tests b/c I think it is important to be able to measure our district against other districts in a standard way.

However, that's enough.

Multiple repetitive data points don't make sense, b/c they come with a cost in days of education and child engagement. Isn't that one of the definitions of crazy, doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different outcome?

I've never complained about testing before this year, when my child suddenly was subjected to fall MAP, fall and winter RBA, ditto MBA (I think those are reading/math benchmark assessments), some other things I can't pin down b/c kid didn't know the name, and upcoming spring rounds of all plus MSPs.

It's too much, and the math testing regimen is IMO particularly absurd - what is the difference in the information received b/w math MAP and math benchmark assessment? And how can it help a teacher in a way that classroom tests after each unit do not? Gee, it tells the teacher the kids don't know the stuff that the curriculum hasn't covered yet... shocking. Who could have predicted that. Just shocking.

I can't fathom the time wasted on standardized math testing in this particular class.

I do have my 3rd request out for a list of tests, and haven't rec'd an answer yet.

Step one for all readers: ask in writing for a list of the standardized tests at your school. Then I plan to look them up.

Signed: we'll see
Samantha, I'll have a thread on Common Core soon. There are a LOT of superintendents and parents speaking out in many states against CC.

I suspect that parents in Washington State are slow to react because frankly, it has gotten very little play in the media AND where is the roll-out from our districts and OSPI? Very quiet, very stealthy.
Po3 said…
I agree very below the radar - I found out that my 9th grader will have common core testing Junior year. Just when you though they were done and only had SATS to think about.

Only reason I know is it came up in an unrelated conversation with a HS counselor.

I will likely opt my student out as this test will not be required for graduation. Just a test to test the test.
Anonymous said…
I don't think the roll-out of CCSS has been "stealth." They simply aren't using the new assessments yet. This year's state tests are still testing the original state standards. Not until next year will they test students according to the CCSS. This is when students and parents are likely to take notice. The tests will be much longer and writing will be every year as part of the ELA standards, not just in 4th and 7th grade.

Parents in NY are speaking out because their children have been subjected to the new tests - they were long and scores were abysmal. We're just a year behind.

-partial opt-outer
Jan said…
One thing I find interesting (because I know I do this myself) is that we often "justify" going along with bad ideas (like too much standardized testing) because it is easier, for some reason, than taking a stand. The commenter above whose kindergarten child takes the test because at least she gets some fun computer time, and isn't stuck in the library coloring is an example. Now -- if we really don't care -- if 8 or 9 high stakes tests for your kid per year (and the siphoning of funds and energy to that instead of something else) is fine with us -- then, fine. We are good. But if we want change, if we think this is flawed educational policy, a waste of resources (and our kids time and talent), and a diversion from spending time on things that DO work -- this is NOT fine. Because each test taken feeds into the district/press positions "X percent of families continue to support these tests and this approach." Their proof? You take the tests.
If you don't command a lot of money and power -- you have 3 things: your vote, the way you spend your money, and principled choices (ideally made in concert with enough other folks to get the attention of policymakers). That is it. You have nothing else. If you don't use it -- it better be because you don't care. Otherwise, Melissa is right. We have to be the change we seek. But while you might make a difference for just YOUR child -- if you are one of only a handful opting out, the only way that we will be a voice for ALL children is if enough of us to this to make a difference.

I know everyone has to choose battles, and it is not my place to tell people where their time and energy should go. But if this matters to you, I urge you to consider action to make it stop.
n said…
Got it, Melissa. Thanks for that. We do need our clients to advocate for change. But I don't see it happening in my lifetime. I'm ready to hit the streets for a lot of things but seems like there's no urgency in Seattle to bring back values and justice. Look at Jon Greenberg. That was a stand-alone superior example of an injustice that should have been righted. Teachers and parents both should have been picketing John Stanford.

Lots of rhetoric but no marches or picket signs at JS as far as I know. He was worth standing up for.

When I retire, I'm going to become Granny D.
Anonymous said…
I really appreciate reading these comments, because my kid honestly doesn't mind taking many tests per year and really doesn't want to be opted out. I can't say that I give it much thought for my kid. (She's already in APP.) However, if it would help others to opt her out, I would do so. Is there an organized district-wide opt-out movement?

Partial, how much has been publicly explained about ALL of Common Core by either the district or the state? In way to inform both parents AND taxpayers. I haven't seen it.

This is the biggest, across-the-board, some might say radical, thing to happen to public education since NCLB.

And no, parents in other states have been speaking out against CC long before testing started. Oh, and the uplifting of all their children's data to Gates Foundation's without a single notification. NOT one single parent was notified by the state this was happening.

Jan, my thoughts exactly. When her child gets to 3rd grade, then it will become an issue for her. Don't wait, folks, because we are all in this together.

Wondering, someone will have to take up this mantle much like later start parents.
Anonymous said…
Re the parent whose kid doesn't mind testing:

My child is also in APP. I have noticed this year that there has been 1 field trip to date (Feb.), and maybe 9 standardized tests so far - more than ever before.

Last year, many field trips, few tests. There's a finite amount of time in the day and the school year. That's what set me down this path - not actual disgust for testing (that came later) but wondering about time usage and my child missing the opportunity to have field trips.

The sibling who is in a different grade, w/less testing, has more field trips. You can imagine the conversations in our house.

My child was told by math teacher on Friday - after I began the dialog w/teacher and administration about getting a list of tests - that the class would have to go really fast for the rest of the year to cover all the material b/c they were running a little behind.

That reinforced my thinking that all these tests are not the correct way to use class time.

Furthermore, my child is pretty bummed at perceived performance on the math benchmark assessment - ask you child about it (lots of geometry, area of circle, etc, which wasn't covered yet in class) - and doesn't think it's fair if that is part of the academic record since it's for a different grade level and didn't track the curriculum. Yes, kid thinks of this.

I suspect that while most of the APP kids are fine with the testing (goodness knows they're trained to do any and all work put in front of them), if they were asked would you rather take the benchmark/MAP or ... go on a field trip ... or do brain teasers in class ... or do a service project around the school like the garden ... or any of a hundred things, the vast majority would prefer those other things.

I've come to realize that just b/c they don't mind the tests doesn't mean it's what they want to do or should be doing.

I expect the teachers and staff to make good choices - I don't see any rationale for this much testing, (other than the transfer of $$ to the testing companies and data massagers, frankly) so I'm trying to find out info to share to the community. Go ahead and write an email to your child's teacher too!

(I'm at 3 sent w/out receiving a list and counting).

Signed: original poster
seattle citizen said…
Has the district evaluated how well MAP worked on school computers? Besides the obvious problem of monopolizing all the computers in a building for three or four days (no researching or keyboarding essays, etc, THOSE days...) were their technical problems, bandwidth? Student familiarity with the systems?
SBAC is "higher stakes" than MAP - it's state. And in 11th grade it'll be necessary to graduate. So will the technology function efficiently?
Surely the district has a report on MAP snafus. What might be expected with SBAC?
Anonymous said…
I wonder how CC will affect testing into APP. It seems as though CC is about a year ahead of where the district is in teaching and testing right now. If CC becomes the new standard... will Spectrum be sent back to the regular classroom and APP be sent to Spectrum classes? Testing in to advanced learning will become a much more difficult thing.

- CC end of APP
Lynn said…
Why would it be any different? The district can continue to require that the student's math and reading achievement scores are in the top 5% nationally when compared to students in their grade. How would Common Core affect that? Are you thinking they're required to get 95% of the questions correct?
Anonymous said…
It's just that APP is expected to perform 2 years ahead of grade level in math and reading. Would that be 2years ahead of Seattle's current grade level standards or 2 years ahead of CC?
Anonymous said…
Is the district really changing their curriculum in a way that improves learning? Isn't that the question? The CCSS may be more demanding in some respects, but the district is still sticking with Readers and Writers Workshop, and is generally light on content in science and social studies. Math? Still CMP and Discovering Algebra and Geometry. I don't expect vast improvements any time soon.

The one glimmer of hope is a change in the elementary math program. A well chosen program has the potential to improve math even without a shift to CCSS. WA state math standards were fairly solid prior to adopting CCSS, and yet Seattle schools chose to follow a discovery math pathway at the cost of solid math skills.

Anecdotally, I haven't seen the CCSS improving ELA instruction for my child. Our child's class is getting read alouds as part of a 6th grade LA class (and it's being counted as some kind of listening/speaking skill under CSSS). Read alouds. 6th grade.

furthermore said…
From Appendix A of the ELA CCSS, Research Supporting Key Elements to the Standards, on Why Text Complexity Matters:

"Surprisingly, what chiefly distinguished performance of those who had earned a benchmark score or better [21 out of 36 on the reading section of the ACT] from those who had not was not their relative ability in making inferences while reading or answering questions related to a particular cognitive process, such as determining main ideas or determining the meaning of words and phrases in context. Instead, the clearest differentiator was students’ ability to answer questions associated with complex texts. Students scoring below benchmark performed no better than chance…on multiple choice questions pertaining to passages rated as 'complex'….These findings held for male and female students, students from all racial/ethnic groups, and students from families with widely varying incomes. The most important implication of this study was that a pedagogy focused only on 'higher-order' or 'critical' thinking was insufficient to ensure that students were ready for college and careers: what students could read, in terms of its complexity, was at least as important as what they could do with what they read.

n said…
So the best way to teach deciphering complex text may be to model with read alouds. Inquiry and discussion models have always seemed to me the best way to teach complicated passages.

Read alouds that allow a teacher to model making connections and unpacking complicated text seems very smart to me.

And I know that many of you do.

Once you spend time with kids every day trying to convey thinking skills in various curricula, your opinions about what works changes mightily. Model and question . . . model and question. If parents could do more of this at home, children would be ready for the rigor of common core which tries to emphasize thinking over rote learning.
Anonymous said…
I had a friend with kids in an Eastside Montessori school where many of the parents were Microsoft employees. The kids read aloud every day, from k-6th grade, no matter how advanced they were. These parents didn't seem to mind. And I have other friends with kids in Catholic schools which require read alouds up through 8th grade. Blanchett and Kennedy seem happy to have these students being forced to read aloud in these unimpressive schools. As long as the material is at level that challenges the students, I don't see the problem.

In the dark ages I was taught to "read aloud" in my head when faced with complex text. I don't get why it's bad?

Still reading
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lynn said…
The problem with reading aloud is that the material can't ever be appropriately challenging for every student. When the whole class is doing this, there are always children who get nothing out of it - some because it's too complex and some because it's too simple.
Anonymous said…
But Lynn, wouldn't your concern apply to any reading of any textbook or reader or even shorter copied material in any classroom? You're never going to have an entire class of exactly like abilities.

I think the Catholic schools still use reading groups as a way to assign reading material by ability level. My friend's kids in Montessori chose their own reading material from ability grouped books in the classroom. Both approaches would solve your problem. But I agree with you that no classroom can offer all things to all kids. I'm not sure there's an answer for that.

Still reading
n said…
I guess it depends on what you're looking for. Fairy tales, myths, legands all offer tons of learning depending on the goal. I would rather say that almost any one read aloud will offer different learning depending on the maturity and experience of the listener. And almost any read aloud can be shared in a way that teaches or in a way that is understood at a particular level by the listener. Some would say that Harry Potter is really inappropriate for K-3 because they don't understand the deeper messages . . . I've been told that anyway. But can't children read a book on one level at an early age and them reread it later for deeper meaning? Don't we all reread books for deeper insights?

Of course, I'm not talking about John Updike. I'm suggesting that it be reasonably appropriate for school age children.

Anonymous said…
I'm really glad people are questioning the insane testing regime students are going through, and finding ways of opting their students out. I also think that asking for a list of standardized tests your students will have to take is a great idea - at the very least, it gives you information to base your decision on (and keep in mind that the days spent testing are days that could be spent learning instead). However, please don't harass your students' teachers with these types of queries. Teachers don't decide which tests get administered, they don't know why the decisions were made, they have no control over when the tests will be given, etc. (Tests can be implemented in the middle of the year with zero notice to teachers - so they may not even know the answer to your question.) You don't want to further harass the most overworked people in the school system - and the ones who are already on your side. So really these questions should go to the administrators of your school (who are in a position to alert district higher-ups if they're getting a lot of questions/complaints) or, better yet, the district higher-ups themselves.

-A beleaguered teacher
Anonymous said…
I agree with Trish's sentiments, but she needs to aim that commentary straight at her old Microsoft colleagues and their BFF's like Nick Hanauer and Chris Korsmo, the Center for Reinventing Education and Stand for Corporations, uh, er, I mean Children.

Year after year the legislature passes revised legislation that pushes standardized testing linked "teacher accountability" measures through Olympia, and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg thus far. It's all pushed by the likes of LEV and SFC, through it's conduits like Erik Pettigrew, further tightening the noose around the conveniently scapegoated teachers. It is truly fascist propaganda by its very nature to scapegoat teachers who can only defend themselves and their reputations by taking time away from their professions and their loyalty to our kids. That makes them vulnerable, easy and convenient targets who can barely fight back in any meaningful fashion. We parents in the community have to fight for teachers because they can't really fight for themselves without short-changing our kids. It's really that simple.

Trish is right, but it's not all "adults" that are the problem. That's rhetoric. It's actually a few very rich, very powerful, very influential, and very wrong local billionaires and millionaires who need to see the light and dump the cutthroat "run schools like a business" philosophy, get it out of our schools and slay that Frankenstein monster once and for all. Until we do, Trish, you're just spinning your wheels on that front, as standardized testing is now firmly embedded in SPS.

I think it is not enough to write the letter opting out of tests (which we do) even with lots of parents doing this, it has made no impact. I think it would be better to keep our kids out of school on test days & maybe just picket the school w/ our kids those days, I am so game for this!

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