How you can help build the movement to end testing mania


By Amanda Litvinov

Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), spoke recently with EducationVotes about the significance of the Seattle MAP test boycott, why our elected leaders are invested in the status quo when it comes to high-stakes tests and what public education advocates like you can do to change that.

We’re seeing some courageous local and statewide efforts to curb excessive standardized tests. Where is this going?

Take Action ›

How have you seen high-stakes standardized tests affect your students or your own kids? Keep this critical national conversation going. Share your story. ›

The Seattle MAP test boycott is the latest and largest test refusal that we’ve seen. The Seattle teachers have made it clear that they aren’t anti-assessment, that they’re seeking better ways to track student progress.  The question is whether all of these teachers in the Seattle area will hang together—it’s really tough in the face of a possible 10 days’ suspension without pay. But the hope is that they will continue to boycott, and that there is an outpouring of support for them from around the country, including financial support if it comes to that.

Then there is the Texas School Boards resolution, which nearly 90 percent of the school districts have signed. What really pushed things over the edge in Texas was they ended up with 15 end-of-course exams. We adapted the national resolution, which NEA signed as one of the original endorsing groups and now has almost 15,000 individuals and 500 organizations signed on. Many school boards in Florida have passed our national version or some variation, and the Florida School Boards Association passed it, followed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

When you put all of these pieces together, what we’re seeing is somewhat surprising. Texas? Florida? Two of the most conservative states calling for the reduction of standardized tests. Obviously we don’t know how much the boycott movement will truly spread, we will know more this spring. I would expect in more states and more schools, more parents will simply opt their kids out of tests. The big advantage of promoting parent boycott tactics is that parents won’t get their pay docked.

8-Ways-To-Fight-High-Stakes-TestingWe don’t see any of these actions as stand-alone, we them all as components of building a movement to end the overuse and misuse of tests. Everyone can play a part in this–we’ve identified effective tactics in our infographic 8 Ways to Fight High-Stakes Testing, which includes signing the national petition, talking to your friends and neighbors, organizing public forums and going to your state legislature.

Do you sense that people broadly understand the major corporate interests behind these tests?

No, there is not broad understanding of the extent of the privatization and profiteering. The constant expansion of standardized testing is very profitable–it’s not just the tests, it’s a whole lot of ancillary materials. Of course these companies are very interested in more and more tests, marketing them as “benchmark” and “formative,” even though they completely misuse the word “formative.” These are mini-tests to see how students might do on the big test, but none of them are tied to any curriculum, and they can’t be tailored by teachers.

Instead of constantly buying their materials, wouldn’t it be better to pay for professional development and ensure that teachers are able to conduct high quality assessments that benefit students?

It’s your kids versus their profits–that argument can and should be made.  People in this country are not generally opposed to profits, of course, but it’s different when they realize that those bucks come at the expense of good learning and stronger schools and children and you might even argue childhood.

You recently said that by and large, lawmakers are behind in grasping the urgent need to change this system. Why is that the case?

Most of the lawmakers in both parties simply don’t want to change because of the pressure coming from the other side.

First, they certainly don’t want to be seen as anti-accountability, because there’s a civil rights connection because of the history of lack of proper education for kids of color in this country. But the fact remains that these are still the wrong tools to use for what began as a reasonable end goal of closing the achievement gap. But there’s big lobbying bucks behind the standardized testing movement now, and a lot of the major media outlets have bought into this, which puts even more pressure on elected leaders to keep blindly supporting standardized tests.

What do we do to get lawmakers up to speed?

I’m increasingly convinced that lawmakers will only listen to grassroots constituents. They’ve heard from NEA leadership and Fair Test and the FEA which is a sizable alliance, we’ve all said there’s too much testing, too much high-stakes, too much misuse of tests. So the fact is that policymakers must hear from parents and students and teachers and all concerned citizens, and  I believe there’s going to be more noise coming from the bottom up.

I sure hope so, because we’ve got virtually no money—all the money is on the other side, there is no meaningful foundation, corporate or tech mogul money on our side.

Unions and community groups really do need to take to the streets in these neighborhoods and make sure people are educated about the reality our kids face, especially as the boycott movement takes off, which I believe it will. An easy way to open that conversation is to ask, “Do you really think a 5-year-old should have to take 14 standardized tests?” They’ll go, “What!?!”

Unless you are reasonably close to schools, most people don’t have a clue how far overboard testing has gone. A lot of people confound today’s standardized testing with what they remember—taking tests their teachers created for them that were all tied to the curriculum they were studying.

Unions are at their best when they’re collaborating with parents and community groups, organizing at the grassroots level around a shared agenda.

Getting people talking about parent and educator boycotts is key because it is really civil disobedience, people putting their butts on the line, and it attracts lots of attention from the media. This prompts valuable discussions, like how did we get here, and what should we be doing instead?

How would you answer that—what should we be doing instead?

The best proposals out there have elements in common: We need to reduce the amount of standardized testing, eliminate the stakes attached to standardized tests, and develop systems of assessment that include performance tasks. Assessments should be largely under teacher control but produce evidence that can be verified, and result in data that informs teachers, students and parents and can be shared with the broader public in some way. Obviously we also support shifting from punishment to assistance for struggling schools.

Knowing how kids are doing is important. Knowing that our schools are serving them well is very important, and part of that is assessment of student learning, obviously, but that’s not everything. You also need to know whether the kids are happy and healthy, and whether the learning and teaching environment is good for students and educators.

Monty Neill, Ed.D., is executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) and has initiated national and state coalitions of education, civil rights and parent organizations to work toward fundamental change in the assessment of students and in accountability. He currently chairs the Forum on Educational Accountability, an alliance working to overhaul federal education law (the No Child Left Behind Act, in particular) based on the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by nearly 150 national groups, including NEA. Neill has taught and been an administrator in pre-school, high school and college, and he is a grandfather of three children in the public schools.

Reader Comments

  1. As someone who began teaching as Virginia began to implement the Standards of Learning and then NCLB, I’ve seen the caliber of my students go down dramatically. Standardized testing isn’t helping anyone but big business and in Virginia that’s Pearson. They make the tests, write the textbooks, administer the tests, and make the money. Teachers and administrators are becoming more stressed out over NCLB ( which by the way didn’t work in Texas in the first place) and the VA Sol’s. If these tests were helping improve teaching then why are our SAT scores dropping and why are students continuing to fail. I believe in accountability and responsibility, but standardized testing is not serving the people it is supposed to serve, so IMHO, get rid of it and replace it with something that does work. Education can use the exorbitant sums being spent with these corporations on providing true learning opportunities for our students and a living wage for our educators.

  2. We as educators are constantly being asked to teach to a students strengths, the students learning style. However, standardized test are not suited to a students learning style, they are a one-size fits all approach, so consequently the data is flawed, but we are held accountable for the students test scores. In most instances our evaluation and job is tied to students scores on these state mandated tests.

    1. Great point.

      Many families I know have left the public school for either private schools or home schooling because of the one-size-fits-all of public schools brought about by the standards movement.

      The people in charge need to get a clue.

  3. If you are interested in the cost of all of this mandated testing please read the brief that can be found here.

    ……. This is what the new testing system will cost taxpayers in Rockland county school districts according to independant analysis and complied in a SUNY New Paltz brief. “These district leaders projected a total four-year cost of $10,886,712. This compares with an aggregate revenue of $393,000 in Race to the Top funding – an
over $10 million deficit.” …….

    Why don’t tax payers know about this?
    It is our job to spread the word so that tax payers do know about this.

  4. The testing programs have increasingly moved away from evaluating the curriculum presented in the classroom; curriculum that has been approved by state legislatures. I’ve taught over 30 years. I use best practices. When are testing companies going to follow the educational model of teach, discover what we still need to learn, and reteach. The tests are not created as learning or instructional tools. If they were,the data we receive by testing companies after testing would have specifics of what is being missed and guidelines for instruction. Instead, parents and teachers receive very generalized data which intentionally says very little. Testing companies do not want students or teachers to succeed. These companies are not being held to a high standard. State legislatures and Congress are buying into a product that has failed students and educators and are making the testing companies rich. The tests are being created so the testing industry can flourish not students.

    1. I completely agree with you comments. I am a retired teacher and since I also had a Special Education certificate, I was always given children with more learning needs, which I enjoyed the challenge of teaching every child in my class. However, I was not evaluated on their grades or test scores alone because, as a whole, my class scores were a little lower,but I could show each child’s progress and success. One of my main goals was to have each child Like school. I felt this was necessary for their overall education. I don’t understand today the huge importance placed on testing unless it is to make companies richer who are making,scoring, etc these tests. Also, I think some of the people in charge of making these decisions have not been in a class room EVER. I am very concerned about the future education of our children if “they” keep insisting on stressing test results.

  5. When I wrote the book, WHY AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE THE BEST PLACE FOR KIDS (2012), I noted that when I worked with teachers in Philadelphia in 2011, they were required to provide mathematics and reading/literacy instruction four times a day–to 5th through 8th graders. This is not conducive to learning or motivation! Adults over the age of 40 never had to take this many tests, particularly state mandated tests that are high stakes. Ask them if missing those tests had a negative impact on their education? I’m over 40, and I received an amazing K-12 education from public schools in two states. An adult’s successes in life are not dependent on state mandated tests. Let’s stop the spending, wasteful use of our tax dollars on testing companies who are laughing all the way to the bank. It’s time for teachers to take back the profession!!

  6. Where were FL and TX when GW Bush put all this in place? Always amazing how conservatives change their plan when the other party suggests a change. I have never been in favor do standardized testing. We have had several in place long before 2000!

  7. Each child is different and with that in mind we can’t use standardized testing, as we have in the past, to judge the progress of each child. In other words, one size doesn’t fit all. There are too many variables involved in judging a child’s progress while in school. Just like thinking that all children will be rocket scientists someday is a falsy, we should be searching for what that child has an aptitude for in terms of a career, trade or job in the future. Let’s educate children for what they are capable of or interested in doing in their lives. Testing and more testing will not accomplish education for life which is what we should be striving for.

    1. I once had a great 5th grade teacher named Anthony Lillich from Boggy Creek Elementary who found the best in me. I’ll never forget you.

  8. The bottom ine IS the bottom line…the driving reason behind overtesting is money. We must continue to get the message out to parents and politicians: their tax dollars are being ill-spent on poor quality test-driven education, not designed at all to preapre the children for tomorrow.

  9. I think the powers that be will listen more if parents opt out of some of this testing. Here in California they can if they do so in writing.

    Also, a previous poster said that a test is not meaningful unless it is important to the student taking it. Here in one of our schools one student marked his paper in such a way that the answers made a picture of a face. How meaningful can that be?

  10. No standardized test will ever be meaningful unless and untill the score on the exam is important to the kid who took the test. As it is, the score is of no importance to the kid, and they know it. Make their advancement in grade level or toward graduation dependent on a high score on the exam, and we can see whether the exam really measures anything, I suspect the ones I have seen do not.

  11. I agree with the intent of the message, however boycotting testing penalizes the teachers and their school rating. Big businesses are at the forefront of accountability through high stakes testing.

  12. We need to gather other methods of evaluation and present these to the public. Portfolios are one way to evaluate teachers or students. What others can we suggest?

  13. How much do these tests cost each year? The public needs to be aware of the cost and how this money could be spent in the classroom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *