Pennsylvania standardized tests burden schools and students

by Michele Gray, Parents Across America – Central Pennsylvania

(originally posted as oped at the Centre Daily Times)

The PSSAs are upon us. Notices from schools advise parents that our kids get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat a healthy breakfast and take breaks from after-school activities.

It sounds like students are going to be running a marathon.

With the support of education experts, some parents in State College and neighboring communities are choosing a different path. Under Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4 (d)(5), parents have the right to opt out of testing for their children. The exemption is “religious,” but the Pennsylvania Department of Education confirmed this includes any moral, psychological, philosophical or even medical objection. The reason cannot be challenged.

Researchers from Penn State to Harvard cite extensive evidence that high-stakes standardized testing is bad for our kids. While politicians and “reformers” like Bill Gates scramble to pile even more testing on students, the voices of real experts are ignored.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment is the state’s version of the high-stakes testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. After 10 years of NCLB testing, colleges nationwide report dramatic increases in the need for remedial math and English classes. High school test scores are flat or declining. Only the scores of young children have risen as the kids master the important life skills of filling in bubbles and writing vague, dull and repetitive answers to poorly worded questions.

Diane Ravitch, a leading education expert who served in the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton writes, “It’s a disaster. It has turned our schools into testing factories.”

Under NCLB every school must be at 100 percent proficiency by 2014. If a single child with a disability such as Down syndrome or autism fails the test, the entire school fails. Academic studies show massive numbers of schools nationwide failing between now and 2014.

If Park Forest Elementary School, one of only 19 schools in the country to be designated by the Education Commission of the States as a School of Success, can fail the PSSA, any school can.

Test scores don’t go on transcripts or affect grades. According to state law and the State College Area School District website, high school graduation requirements can be met with simple alternatives.

Students think the fate of their schools depends on their test performance, which is a monstrous burden for kids. According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, however, the federal contribution to education in Pennsylvania is about 3 percent statewide, so the funding at stake is minimal. Ironically, millions of education tax dollars go to out-of-state private companies that prepare and score these tests.

If enough parents opt out of testing, maybe Harrisburg and Washington will start listening to experts, evidence and reason.

Please join us on Facebook at “NCLB Testing 2011: What Parents Need to Know Now” for documentation of the many problems with standardized testing. Then make a choice that supports our community, our schools and our children.

Michele Gray is the mother of two children at Park Forest Elementary School, and has started a new PAA chapter for Central Pennsylvania.  She can be reached at

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10 Responses to Pennsylvania standardized tests burden schools and students

  1. Michele Gray

    Thanks for posting my column. There are so many parents that are fed up and furious about this testing. We have to do something.

    The Facebook group’s name have been changed to NCLB Testing 2011: What Parents Need to Know Now because we’ve had parents now from everywhere joining us to share resources and stories and ideas. I am thrilled beyond words to start working the Parents Across America now!

    • Katherine Haimson

      You go girl!!!!!! Great idea. Admins only listen to the parents anyway!!! I am a Reading Recovery teacher because it is privately funded in our poor district. Someone should be logging the amt. of instructional time lost to developementaly and otherwise inappropriate testing.

  2. leoniehaimson

    Thanks Michele! I have corrected the above. Welcome to PAA!

  3. Michele Gray

    I am thrilled to be here. I have just started blogging about our efforts on the site, and I’d love to share What CNN Left Out with PAA. Please feel free to repost any and all of what I’ve written there, or if you’d like me to rewrite it for PAA, let me know.

  4. Maria Cuthbert

    Tests are a great pedagogical resource if: 1. students receive feedback on their performance right away; 2. students receive feedback and explanations about the correct answers immediately after the test; 3. they are to be tested soon again on the same topics; 4. the new grade counts for their grades and advancement at school.

    It seems that the sole purpose of comparing students’ knowledge among their age group does nothing but create excuses for underperformance.

  5. Michael Lehmier

    Michelle – I am at a summit in Albany this week when I learned about Parents Across America. I immediately thought I would share the information with you. But…here your are! Looking forward to chatting sometime soon.

  6. Dawn O'Malley

    We are facing a round of summative testing in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC school district next week. These tests will require four days of instruction time, cost millions, and be used to support our Superintendent’s miserable pay for performance plan. Some friends and I have begun a boycott campaign for the testing next week and have about 10 families refusing to send their children to school on those days. Any ideas or thoughts about whether this could be effective?

  7. Michele Gray


    It will be a start. And it will make a difference. Be sure to talk to teachers and the principal to explain that you are doing this to support teachers and schools, not to punish them. Write Op-Ed columns to your local paper explain how what you are doing is the only way left for parents to stop testing and support healthy schools. Be sure to keep your LtoE at about 200 words, and Op-Ed columns to about 500 words.

    Michael, let’s talk this week.

  8. May Dooley

    Announcement: Voucher debate scheduled for 10/26/11, 7 pm, at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg. If you will send me an email, I will forward a colorful flyer to you. Meanwhile, here is the text:
    School Vouchers…
    Necessary education reform?
    The destruction of
    Public education?
    Get Informed!
    Join the Conversation!
    Wednesday, October 26, 2011
    7:00 PM
    This fall, the PA Legislature will debate SB1.
    This bill, if approved by the PA House and Senate and signed by the Governor, would establish a voucher program in Pennsylvania.
    An educational voucher program is a system through which some parents are given a tuition certificate, funded by tax dollars, which may be used to pay for all or part of the tuition for a child to attend a participating public, private or religious school.

    Debate Panel
    Otto V. Banks, Executive Director
    REACH (Road to Educational Achievement through CHoice)
    Dr. Jill Sunday Bartoli, Ph.D.
    Elizabethtown College
    Matthew J. Brouillette
    Commonwealth Foundation
    Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn, Ed.D.
    Senator Mike Folmer (R)
    PA Senate District 48
    Andrew (Andy) Hoover
    ACLU of PA
    Dick Komer, Esq.
    Institute of Justice
    Dr. Timothy Slekar, Ph.D.
    Penn State, Altoona Campus
    The debate will be moderated by Scott Gilbert.

  9. Liz Saller

    Michelle, thanks for this great article! I was hoping if you could help me find out if North Carolina has a similar Code/Title/Chapter? Can you direct me or do you know someone I could ask?