On Monday, President Obama published an open letter to parents and teachers about testing.
The letter introduced his administration’s new Testing Action Plan which is supposed to fix the problems of excessive testing. The plan defines a set of testing principles for states and school districts to follow to make for “fewer and smarter” tests.
We agree with Diane Ravitch and the Network for Public Education that the plan is too little, too late.
The principles outlined in the plan leave out too many issues that parents care about including test bias, lack of transparency in the actual test questions, student data privacy, growing student test anxiety, etc.
We suspect that this letter is less an expression of shared parental concern and more a last-ditch effort to make sure that any revision of ESEA maintains an annual testing requirement.
You can add your thoughts to ours using the comment form link provided by the White House.
Parents Across America
Response to President Obama’s open letter to parents and teachers on testing
Parents unconvinced that new Obama Testing Action Plan will fix testing crisis
October 29, 2015
Dear President Obama,
Thank you for reaching out to parents and teachers on the important issue of testing in our schools.
As a network of public school parents of all backgrounds from around the U.S., Parents Across America (PAA) helps bring the voice of public school parents – and common sense – to local, state, and national education debates.
In this role, PAA has consistently raised concerns about the way standardized tests have taken over our schools, and we appreciate the fact that you took the time to raise some of these same concerns in your October 26 letter to parents and teachers. We would like to respond to points you raise in your letter, and then share some of our concerns about the limitations of the Testing Action Plan.
As parents, we especially appreciate the fact that you approach over-testing as a father, saying, “I certainly wouldn’t want that for my girls.” We feel the same way about our children. You and Secretary Duncan have been able to protect yours from test abuse by sending them to private schools that simply don’t allow that kind of testing. But most parents depend upon public schools and responsible policy making by district, state and federal officials. Unfortunately, too many policy makers seem to be listening to billionaire “reformers” and billion dollar test companies instead of parents and educators.
Like you, we want to know how our children are doing in school. But we really don’t learn much from standardized test reports released months into the next school year on tests that seem to change every year. We learn much more from our students’ report cards, teacher conferences, and reviewing schoolwork over time – information that Department of Education policies have pushed to the sidelines.
As parents, we also appreciate your sharing what was really important in your own schooling – creativity, curiosity, and confidence as a learner – things that we want for our children, too. You imply that your administration’s policies have contributed to stifling these qualities, and to “taking the joy out of teaching and learning.” We agree.
For all these reasons, PAA appreciates your stated intention to fix the overemphasis on testing, and we thank you for asking for our feedback on your Testing Action Plan.
PAA response to Obama Administration Testing Action Plan p. 2
PAA sees inadequate standards in Testing Action Plan (“The Plan”)
Overall, we are concerned that the principles outlined in The Plan are inadequate standards against which to measure federal, state and local testing policies and practices, and that significant factors are missing from The Plan, factors which have led parents to opt our children out of these tests in record numbers.
PAA believes that standardized tests are inherently flawed instruments, and dangerously so when misused. We are concerned that promises of “smarter” or “better” tests are just empty words in a context where so many shortcomings of standardized testing are ignored.
So, we seriously question whether the standards laid out in The Plan will lead to tests that are worth taking, high-quality, adequately time-limited, fair, transparent, just one of multiple measures, and tied to improved learning. Here are some of our reasons:
- It is simply unfair and even un-American to judge children based on tests that are designed so that only some students “pass.” Questions include “distractor answers” to trip up some students. Cut-scores are arbitrarily set to assure a certain percentage of failure.
- The Common Core tests by PARCC and SBAC are already being used for high-stakes purposes before they have been properly validated or adequately field tested.
- “The Plan” calls for transparency but fails to require the one thing that would give parents the most complete information – that is, the publication of all state standardized test questions and answers after each administration. When even a handful of these questions have become public, parents have been able to see for ourselves how illogical, unfair, and often racist some of them are.
- Most recently, children as young as 3 and 4 are being asked to take tests that require physical and academic skills far beyond their developmental capacity.
Significant issues not addressed in The Plan include:
- the growing impact of test stress on our children’s mental health,
- increasing parental concerns about student data privacy as technology takes a larger role in testing,
- the continued practice of some states and districts to use single standardized test scores to retain students or deny them access to programs or diplomas, and
- the crisis in school funding which has forced schools and districts to make crippling cut backs in services and programs that are proven to support student academic success, such as parent involvement programs, health and other wrap-around services, lower class size, and a richer, broader curriculum that is student-, not test-centered.
We look forward to working with you and your administration to address these additional concerns, to strengthen the principles laid out in The Plan by including the ideas we’ve shared here and those of other parents and educators, and to carry out these improved principles throughout our public school system.
Julie Woestehoff, PAA Interim Executive Director