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 mgrayrose@gmail.com

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