Local victories that shaped the testing landscape in 2015-16 school year

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by Brian Washington

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With the 2015-16 school year about to come to a close, Education Votes is taking a look at how educators mobilized to reshape the testing landscape in their communities.

While this recap is certainly not exhaustive, it highlights some of the stories that generated online discussions on our blog and social media outlets.

The 2015-16 school year began with some exciting news. A new poll showed that Americans favored less standardized testing.

According to the 2015 PDK/Gallup Survey of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 64 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of public school parents) say there is “too much emphasis on testing.” Only 14 percent rated standardized testing as a “very important ” factor in measuring school effectiveness, and 55 percent (66 percent of parents) oppose test scores being used to evaluate teacher performance.

This sentiment proved to be true at the state and local levels where educators rallied public education stakeholders in their communities to stem the tide on the overuse of high-stakes, standardized testing.

In Maryland, educators kicked off an extensive media campaign to highlight the inordinate amount of time they spend preparing for and administering standardized tests. It has yielded some significant results too. Just this month, Governor Larry Hogan signed into law a bill to change the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA)—a lengthy test covering several months that’s administered individually to each kindergarten student.

“It could take upwards of 90-minutes per student to administer,” said Casey Day-Kells, a 5th grade teacher in Frederick County. “So you can imagine when students should be learning routines, how to behave in a classroom, and making friends, their first weeks are all spent testing.”

As a result of this bill becoming law, the KRA will now only be administered to a sample of students entering kindergarten. Click here to read about other gains Maryland educators are making to help curb testing.

In Kentucky, as a result of educators in Jefferson County working with public school leaders there, the district is no longer requiring diagnostic tests. These tests are designed to provide a baseline of student knowledge but educators say they are unfair and contain content students haven’t covered in class. So now, if the local school principal agrees to comply with the district’s ruling, 8th graders, for example, may see 16 fewer tests to take during the course of the next school year.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, it was students, including Sydney Chinowsky, a Boulder high school senior, who rallied outside in the freezing cold in December to get state lawmakers to rethink a decision requiring Chinowsky and her graduating classmates to take the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) test.

“We eventually figured out that it had been planned for quite a while,” Chinowsky said. “They actually paid the testing company Pearson to come up with this test specifically for seniors, and they had to plan how to administer it to 650 of us.”

 

Hear Sydney Chinowsky speak at the More Than a Score rally in Denver.

 

The combined efforts of students like Chinowsky, parents, and educators speaking out against the state’s testing regime were effective: The state ditched the CMAS test for the current school year, and testing became a major issue in the state legislature.

In Tennessee, educators have successful used the testing issue to win elections and take back the Knox County School Board.

The board now has a 6-3 split—with the six majority members made up of former or retired educators, who understand the needs of students, teachers, and education support professionals. And Lauren Hopson, a county teacher, says educators may win another seat in the fall.

“We have a pretty good shot with our last endorsed candidate, who won the primary but still has to go through the general election in September,” said Hopson. “The one we hope will win in the fall is not an educator but has worked with the PTA (Parent Teacher Association).”

These are just some of the examples of how educators and their allies are stemming the tide on the excessive use of standardized tests to measure student growth. However, we want to here from you.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Share your story about how you, your education colleagues, and community groups in your neighborhood, are fighting back against high-stakes testing.

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