Thursday, March 24, 2011

What CNN Left Out

CNN left out the most important parts of the story

“What’s your beef with standardized tests?” was the first question Susan Candiotti asked me once the camera started rolling. It’s the wrong question.

The issue is No Child Left Behind. The critical fact that every parent needs to know and most do not is this: Under NCLB, there is a deadline after which we are all dead. That deadline is 2014. We are running out of time.

The goals of No Child Left Behind seemed laudable back in 2001. No child should be allowed to slip through the cracks because of disability, language, race or poverty. Who could argue with that? Yet, ten years of research, study and analysis have proven that NCLB has completely failed in its goals. Non-educators in Washington tried to micromanage the education of every single child. And because that management is based on test scores, the consequences have been devastating for public education.

This post is the first in a series of articles detailing these consequences and providing links to research and analysis by numerous experts from major universities to the Government Accounting Office (GAO). I am also going to explore the myths and misconceptions about these tests and look at the supposed benefits and the documented costs, both monetary and otherwise. Finally I’ll talk about what parents can do to make new choices for our children based on solid research. As parents we all want what is best for our kids, but we can no longer trust that a system driven by fear and greed. It’s broken, and parents are now the only ones that can fix it.

Who the people who started the parents boycott of NCLB testing in Pennsylvania

We are parents. I’m Michele Gray. I have a degree in Anthropology. I have two sons, ages 9 and 11. Dr. Tim Slekar is the Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State Altoona. He has a son in the 5th grade and a daughter in second. Dr. Terri Vescio is a social psychologist specializing in gender and racial stereotyping. Her daughter is in the 5th grade and her son is in high school. There are many others who have joined us. Some have also chosen to exempt their kids. Most just didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision in time.

Dr.Vescio and I have children at Park Forest Elementary, an awarding winning school in State College PA. Dr. Slekar’s children attend school in the neighboring Bellewood School District. CNN reported that nine children didn’t take the test at Park Forest but neglected to mention that children at other schools in our area also did not take the test. It is significantly more than nine kids.

How I got involved.

My oldest child, Ted, came to me last winter with an idea. He wanted to make a film showing how the PSSAs (the Pennsylvania State Standards Assessment, our version of the NCLB test) were hurting his school. Last year this nationally recognized “School of Success(1) failed to make the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). Ted’s film would show how this testing threatened the rich and effective curriculum at his school, while negatively impacting teachers and students. At the time, however, my mother was dealing with breast cancer, so I didn’t focus on what he was saying.

Then my younger son started scratching his legs in his sleep until they were covered in bloody scabs. He has test anxiety but is usually able to do fine with the support of his teachers. In the case of these high-stakes tests, however, there was nothing they could do to help him. I started to pay attention.

Ted had already started doing research and pointed me toward a Huffington post by Dr. Slekar on his struggles with the testing. I contacted Tim, and he invited me to a showing of the Race To Nowhere. It was there that Dr. Vescio and I connected. We were both deeply affected by the Race to Nowhere and knew we had to do something. Then Ted showed me an article about the scoring of the tests which had outraged him. I contacted two of the people mentioned in the article, Todd Farley and Dan DiMaggio. After speaking with them, I bought and read Farley’s book about his 15 years inside the standardized testing industry, “Making the Grades.”

Knowledge is power, they say. Armed with what I had learned from the book and my discussions with experts, and inspired by the film, I was empowered to make a different choice, to say No to the NCLB tests.

This was not an easy decision. I talked about it with my family, especially my children. I also discussed it with my children’s teachers and their principal, explaining that if I made the decision to remove my kids from testing, it was because I believed in the school and what they did there. While the risk was that that my action might jeopardized the school making AYP, thiw was the only option left to me as a parent. I explained that if they didn’t make AYP because of my decision, they could blame me — blame parents and thereby call attention to damage that these tests do to schools, teachers and kids.

Why Now

Parents have been systematically marginalized from school reform. Diane Ravitch recounts over and over how corporate school reformers from New York to Washington to San Diego have bullied parents. Parents always watch helplessly from the sideline as their children’s schools are turned upside down by politicians intent on turning schools into little factories and kids into data points.

The next two years are going to see massive numbers of schools failing until the year 2014, when every school will fail. We are told that President Obama is going to fix the problems with NCLB and not to worry. However, given the partisan gridlock in Washington, this view seems naive, to say the least. Furthermore, Obama’s cure, once again, is looking even worse than the problem he wants to fix.

Next time I’ll take a look at what test scores really show us about school and the myth of accountability.

1 Recognized in 2009 by the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and by the Educational Council of the States

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