Rising Testing Opt-Out Movement

The Opt-Out or Refusal movement is gaining traction. According to this article by Laura McKenna in The Atlantic, nearly 5% of students in some districts are refusing to take the tests.

She relates a personal story about students becoming part of the movement. Of course kids are going to ask parents to let them miss the test. This is excellent — as long as students know why they are refusing the test. It’s not to have a morning off. It’s to let decision makers (which usually is not at the district level. It’s at a state and national level) know that students want education that does not fit into a standardized test.

Students AND parents need to be part of the conversation about testing. It is not up to the companies that profit from it, and who do you think has better access the legislators?

These protests should also serve as a reminder for decision-makers that parents and students are stakeholders in education policy and that community outreach must be part of any reform.

Then, too, they must justify WHY we need the tests. What do they prove? What benefit do students gain from them?

Legislators should not be the ones making the decision alone — or with the testing companies.

Learning without Testing? Can it be so?

I’m taking another MOOC – big surprise! It’s about Content Strategy – one of my favorite concepts. It’s not a class about education – it’s a professional development class, with content that directly relates to the work I do.

Quote from the first lecture:

Since it is for professionals, there will be no grades and no tests. It’s not a college course. It’s a program for you as a professional to master, and then be able to use what you learn here and take it back to work. It’s knowledge that will improve your effectiveness….

Yes, you really CAN learn even if there are no tests or grades. Imagine that.

Letter to a School Board about Test Refusal

Courtesy Fort Worth Squath. CC license

Courtesy Fort Worth Squath. CC license

It’s testing season again. I have had conversations with a few parents about opting out, or as I’m seeing it now — refusing the test. Because my daughter is a senior, she doesn’t have to take them. My son (a freshman) is at a private school, so no tests. My family’s days of test refusal are over, but I dug up the email I sent to the school board last year explaining why we opted out. To be clear, my daughter was a junior at the time. She was very involved with the decision. It was not something we forced on her.

We sent a version of this to our state legislators as well.

Our Letter to the School Board

To the ISDxxx School Board and others,

This past school year, we opted our daughter out of MCA testing, and wanted to let you know why. She’ll be a senior next year, so no testing. We would definitely continue to opt out of MCA testing if she was younger.
We have long felt that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing that takes away from real learning. We were grateful that the Legislature changed the graduation requirements last spring, so she could opt out this year.
Here’s why we chose to opt out:
  • Test taking skills: when our daughter was in 8th grade, her math teacher told us she spent 3 weeks preparing the students for the MCA test. THREE WEEKS of valuable class time teaching them how to take a test?
  • 19th century skills: standardized, fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice tests test one type of learning and encourage memorization. They do little to allow students to demonstrate 21st century skills, such as creativity, critical thinking or collaboration.
  • Lifelong Skills: We’ve been in the workforce for over 25 years. We have yet to need to take a multiple choice test as part of our jobs. I’d prefer my kids were taught the skills needed in the current and future workforce, which include not only 21st century skills, but things like computer coding, visual literacy and creativity, and digital citizenship.
  • Teacher Merit Pay: basing teacher pay on student test scores is offensive to teachers and students alike. It encourages focus on test taking skills over and above less “data” like creativity. Our kids are more than a number on a test, and that is why we pay fantastic teachers to get to know our kids as people.
  • Stress/Anxiety: I hear from teachers and students about the stress and anxiety these tests cause. Teachers hate making kids take tests, kids hate taking them. Why put everyone through this for such little gain?
  • Delay in reporting: With the MCAs, tests are taken in the spring. Results come back months later, thereby practically useless.
  • Profit: the only people who profit from these tests is the companies who make them. They are expensive, there’s no accountability and there are proven errors. Why are we paying these companies so much money? This goes for the MCAs and the AP tests — cash cows for those companies.

We realize the School Board doesn’t make the decisions about the MCAs. We will also send this to state legislators, who in spite of not being educators, make the decisions about these tests that so impact our children.

The Board does make the decisions about teacher merit pay. This issue is complex, and I don’t pretend to understand it. However, I’d encourage you to reward the wonderful ISDxxx teachers based on things that really matter: the relationship they build with students.

Traditional Learning

Again, from the MOOC I’m taking about e-Learning Ecologies…. this course is really far bigger than e-learning. It’s about transforming education to the 21st century.

Great quotes:

Long-term memory in traditional education is remembering it until the day after the test.

This one is fabulous. The goal of the learning is learning how  to find information. If a student has researched, found the information, and presented it somehow,

The empirical details [about a subject] are irrelevant. They don’t need to be remembered because you can always look them up again.

Maverick Superintendent

My local school district is looking for a new superintendent after a long tenure (17 years, I believe). The current sup is much loved and revered by some — he’s done a great job keeping the district fiscally sound and has weathered the ebbs and flows of student enrollment. He closed schools early on and is now having to add space. He’s led the district through significant demographic change and is responding to the changing demands. He saw the introduction of the first 1:1 iPads in the district this year.

I did have the opportunity to participate in a focus group to give input on the new hire. No idea if they’ll listen to anything we said…. Just saw this great article about a maverick sup in NJ — THIS Is what I’d like!

Why? Highlights:

…we’ve redefined what public education should look like, to include creative problem solving and social and emotional well-being to be as important as academic success.

…we reframed what teaching and learning looks like by focusing on project-based learning.

I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it? Because we have so much information today. How do you help kids navigate that? That’s critical thinking and creative problem solving.

[businesses] want kids who can solve problems and think critically.

I am not anti-testing. I’m concerned about the policies associated with the testing regime and how they may detract from the quality and purpose and the use of tests.

Let’s bring this guy in!!!

How to teach a young introvert

As the parent of two introverted kids who find school overwhelming, this hits home. These suggestions are actually wonderful for ALL kids, not just introverts.

ideas.ted.com

See all articles in the series

What should we do with the quiet kids? A conversation with Susan Cain on the future of classroom education.

Susan Cain sticks up for the introverts of the world. In the U.S., where one third to one half the population identifies as introverts, that means sticking up for a lot of people. Some of them might be data engineers overwhelmed by the noise of an open-floor-plan office. Others might be lawyers turning 30, whose friends shame them for not wanting a big birthday bash. But Cain particularly feels for one group of introverts: the quiet kids in a classroom.

Cain remembers a childhood full of moments when she was urged by teachers and peers to be more outgoing and social — when that simply wasn’t in her nature. Our most important institutions, like schools and workplaces, are designed for extroverts, says Cain in her TED Talk. [Watch: The power of…

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More about Student Choice/Freedom

Sam Tanner writes,

High school students are not used to freedom in academic work.

I agree, and am pleased that he has just done the assignment he knows pushes them. They are in charge of demonstrating their mastery, in whatever way works best for them.

Saw a blog post today with a similar message, “Demonstrating learning doesn’t have to look the same for every student” by Amber Teamann. She talks more about elementary students, but the theory is the same.

In our particular situation, the vast majority of assignments at my daughter’s high school involve demonstrating her mastery of the subject through a prescribed, teacher led task. At least in her experience, it’s been a rare instance when she could do this in whatever way she wanted. In most cases, Mr. Tanner’s class being the exception, she’s struggled with this – as have her peers. They have been so trained to do what they were told that they cannot think for themselves.

In her particular situation, the way she’s being asked to demonstrate mastery is through word-based tests. This is not her strength, and she has not always done “well” (when measured by grades.) This can lead to a learned helplessness, so eventually the student stops trying. Learning becomes all about the grades and performance on tests, not about learning and analyzing the material.

Yet, when she found the confidence (in Mr. Tanner’s English classes) to explore and explain her mastery as she wished, she created elaborate projects that accomplished the goal: show what she learned. She integrated an entire trimester’s worth of learning into one art project.

This is life, people. There isn’t a teacher always telling us what to produce. Yes, certain jobs require this, but for the most part, we choose the jobs that fit us. We develop solutions to problems. We communicate to others — and we often choose to do this in a way that suits our personality and strengths. Why aren’t students encouraged to do this, too?