By Amanda Litvinov
At a rally to defend public education in Albany over the weekend, one of the messages that came through loud and clear is that testing in New York state isn’t being done right. Thousands of parents, students, educators and other education advocates descended on Empire Plaza to make sure lawmakers and their fellow citizens realize exactly how far off-track the state has gone with misusing and overusing standardized tests.
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High school teacher and former New York Teacher of the Year Rich Ognibene brought the mission of the One Voice United Rally into focus as he addressed the crowd from the stage: “We speak for teachers like those of us here today who believe in accountability but see that the obsession with testing and data has reduced our instructional time, harmed our most vulnerable students and diminished our humanity.”
Joyce Powell, an educator from neighboring New Jersey who serves on NEA’s board, said to applause, “Tests should be utilized for learning, not as weapons of punishment. We’re not against tests, we’re against test abuse.”
She went on to encourage the crowd to advocate for the proposed Truth in Testing Act, which demands an end to testing in New York state that does not have a specific education-related purpose and would forbid making individually identifiable student testing data available to for-profit companies. Powell delivered a loud message to those she called testing profiteers: “Our students are not for sale!”
Standardized testing is without question a profitable industry. The testing market was estimated to be worth as much as $700 million back in 2001; that figure jumped to $1.7 billion in 2012. And the test publishing companies are willing to fight for their market share—just two of the largest test publishers, Pearson and McGraw Hill, devoted a combined $1.55 million in 2011 to lobbying the influential states of California, Florida, New York and Texas, whose test purchasing decisions influence much of the rest of the country.
New Yorkers aren’t alone in their disdain for the testing regime that has gripped the nation for more than a decade. Parents, educators and students in Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and across Texas have led a growing movement against tests they say come at the expense of students by replacing authentic teaching and learning with countless hours of test prep and administration.
Like the New York educators, those who have spoken up nationwide long for assessments that strengthen educators’ ability to assess student progress and tailor their lessons accordingly. But all too often, states or districts require students to take tests that are not aligned with their own curriculum, and teachers, students and parents are presented with only a final score, preventing them from understanding where the student is doing well or needs to improve.
- Teachers in Seattle risked their careers to stand up for students subjected to a district mandated test that violated the rights of special education students and was not aligned with the state curriculum. The off-the-shelf Measures of Academic Progress test presented students with material they had never seen before, and was used as a factor in teacher evaluations, though educators had not been given the chance to present students with all of the material. In January, they voted to boycott the tests, garnering strong support from parents and teachers. After a months-long standoff with the superintendent, the test was dropped as a requirement in high schools.
- Parents, educators and administrators in Texas led a charge to stop excessive testing that state lawmakers could not ignore. Both chambers passed a bill to sharply scale back the number of tests required of high school students from 15 to 5. Governor Rick Perry signed it into law today.
- Students in Providence, Rhode Island, helped lawmakers and other influential people see exactly what high-stakes standardized tests are like by asking them to take it. Most of those adults who gave it a shot failed.
- Students in Portland, Oregon, organized an opt-out campaign against the state mandated Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. The students, like their teachers, said they were tired of losing productive school hours to test prep.
Math teacher and NEA president Dennis Van Roekel acknowledged that the effort to find balance in testing and teaching is one the entire country is engaged in: “Educators here in New York are not alone. Know that the 3 million members of the National Education Association are united in this struggle,” said Van Roekel.
“Why? Because as educators, we know children are more than a test score. We know that flawed, high-stakes tests take away precious time from learning, and do little to help evaluate the individual needs of students. Our students deserve better, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Stay tuned to EducationVotes.org over the coming weeks to keep up with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind. NEA believes the law should be improved by ending the obsession with high-stakes, poor-quality tests by developing high-quality assessment systems that provide multiple ways for students to show what they have learned.