Thursday, March 31, 2011

Too Much Testing

Kids take a lot of tests, and there is a lot of confusion about which tests are which.

As parents we oppose high-stakes standardized tests which are used to hold teachers and schools “accountable” under the No Child Left Behind Act while providing no usable information to parents or teachers. These tests are now being proposed as a means of measuring teacher effectiveness and even determining teacher pay. When politicians and education reformers talk about “test scores” these are the scores they mean.

Just to meet the federal requirements to assess math and English, kids are typically tested all day for two weeks or more. The tests are created, administered and scored by private for-profit companies that charge state hundreds of millions of dollars.

SATs and other college entrance tests

College admissions tests like the SAT are voluntary. Students pay to register and then spend a few hours on a Saturday morning taking them. Those college bound teens who want additional preparation can purchase study guides or take private prep classes.

No college or university admits a student based solely on test scores. Grades, interviews, letters of recommendation, essays, and extra curricular activities are all part of the admissions process. In fact, today there is a movement away from even requiring these “entrance exams.”

Taking the standardized tests mandated under No Child Left Behind is not practice for the SATs. No child needs two to three weeks worth of practice every year starting at age eight to pass a college entrance exam.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills

The Iowa Test (ITBS) is a norm-referenced test to provide a snap shot of where students are academically. The whole test takes only 90 minutes with each section taking no more than 30 minutes.

Norm-referenced tests like the ITBS are graded on a curve so that most students score in the middle somewhere. Schools, including private and religious, use these tests periodically for diagnostic purposes. This test or one like is probably what President Obama’s daughters just took. A test like this is one that many parents remember taking and finding out that as fifth graders, they were reading at a ninth grade level or something like that.

Schools can choose when and if to administer tests like the ITBS.

The NAEP aka The Nations Report Card

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is given every four years to a random sample of school by the Department of Education in order to measure long term trends (LTT). Participation in the NAEP is voluntary and does not provide data for individual students or schools. The test remains essentially the same from year to year. The NAEP takes about 90 minutes.

Classroom tests

These are the tests that teachers make and administer in class. Teachers use these tests along with in-class assignments, participation, homework, projects, research, papers, and so on, to determine a child’s grade for the semester.

We are not anti-testing.

We are against high-stakes standardized test. President Obama recently stated:

Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

So what I want to do is -- one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

High-stakes standardized tests don't just make education boring, they actually undermine learning. Because schools are virtually forced to emphasis test taking skills at the expense of science, social studies, art, music, and physical education, curricula are narrowed. Furthermore, the very skills needed to score well on these tests are antithetical to critical thinking. A study published in “ Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 80, 1988, entitled "Students’ Goal Orientations and Cognitive Engagement in Classroom Activities" demonstrates that students who are taught to skim, guess, and skip hard problems score much higher than those who reread passages, ask questions, carefully weigh options, and look for novel solutions. It is the latter skills that we should be trying to teach.

For decades there have been concerns that all standardized tests are culturally and socially biased. Sociologists and social psychologists have long debated the exact nature of the bias. The places where these researcher should be doing their research is in the test scoring centers themselves:

In the test-scoring centers in which I have worked, located in downtown St. Paul and a Minneapolis suburb, the workforce has been overwhelmingly white—upwards of 90 percent. Meanwhile, in many of the school districts for which these scores matter the most—where officials will determine whether schools will be shut down, or kids will be held back, or teachers fired—the vast majority are students of color. As of 2005, 80 percent of students in the nation’s twenty largest school districts were youth of color. The idea that these cultural barriers do not matter, since we are supposed to be grading all students by the same standard, seems far-fetched, to say the least. Perhaps it would be better to outsource the jobs to India, where the cultural gap might, in some ways, be smaller.

Still, some standardized testing may have a small role to play in our educational system. Today, however, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between what everyone agrees — we need to measure student progress using a number of different measures — and policies driven by corporate reformers and multimillion dollar testing companies such as Race To The Top.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Competitive Test Taking

We are told that this is our Sputnik moment. That we must out-educate the rest of the world. That we must teach our children to be more competitive than ever. That we are in a race to the top.

The top of what?

Sputnik already happened. It lead to a cold-war space race to see who could get to the moon first. We won. Then once we got there, we decided we weren’t interested in staying.

Why do we have to teach all our children to be more competitive? And how does testing them for two weeks when they are nine years old make them more competitive? Are we entering an international standardized test taking competition? With Finland?

Some people are naturally competitive. Some are accommodating, or cooperative, or supportive, or analytical, or encouraging, or creative, or imaginative. Isn’t it better for our kids and their future to encourage all these ways of being and more.

China has always had better test scores than the US. Interestingly, in his latest blog Chinese born and educated Yong Zhoa, now Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, writes that,

China’s imperial testing system, keju, enticed generations of Chinese to study for the test so as to earn a position in government and bring glory to the family. But it has been blamed as a cause of China’s failure to develop modern science, technology, and enterprises as well as China’s repeated failures in wars with foreign powers because good test takers are just that: good at taking tests and nothing else. Until today, China is still working hard to move away from a test-oriented education in order to have the talents to build a knowledge-based economy.

I’m not going to train my children to be hyper competitive. They don’t need to be in order to live successful lives. I want them to be happy, curious and confident. I want them them to love learning, discovery and invention. I want them to learn to think for themselves, to question marketing drivel presented as “facts,” to recognize the difference between evidence and opinion. I want them to use their talents for good and meet their challenges with dignity and courage.

I know the world is changing and that the challenges of the future are looming. But don’t we want the best and the brightest working together to meet those challenges? If a child has a love of art, or music, or dance, or loves tinkering with engines, or reading, or animals, shouldn’t that love be nurtured and encouraged? We can either have a society that gives all kids the tools they need to discover their unique potential, or we can win the international test taking championship.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another mother's experience

On our Facebook group, a mom asked about negative repercussions for children who don't take the test. She was worried about these kids being ostracized by their fellow classmates and punished by their teachers. Another mother responded:

Tricia, Luke did not experience any repercussions from his fellow students or his teachers it was quite the contrary.
As you know, the teacher’s hands are tied and they are professionals so they would not react either way regardless. As for our school, I can assure you that the teachers are treating Luke just like any other student, with respect, kindness and compassion.
But if you look at the research you will find that there is virtually no way a teacher could support such an atrocity to our children. I see the teacher’s hearts break when PSSA’s come around and they get the question, “Why do we have to take this test?”, and the teacher can truly not find any good answer. None.
What you need to understand is that there is not one thing about the PSSA test that benefits the students, teachers, administrators or the school. It does not affect a students grade, placement or graduation. It does not prove a teacher’s worth or teaching ability whatsoever. It does not bring money to the school as the cost of the tests plus the cost to have them scored (which by the way is not scored by TEACHER’S) is equal to the money the school is rewarded and in some cases less than the reward amount itself!!
As for the students, at first it was shocking to them that you could say no to a test – hard to believe – they wanted to know if it was really true - they started to think that would mean you would be held back a year if you didn’t take the PSSA. Luke has been a part of this decision and clearly understands the goal of the PSSA. Luke & I tell the students that he is boycotting because we support public schools and to “google” that. There is NO benefit for anyone other than the people who push to close the public schools.
We were nervous and not sure how the students would handle the boycott but we had to stand up in support of our teachers and public schools. To our surprise, the kids lifted him up, started asking questions, wanted to know more, are proud of him and want to be as “lucky” as him. They want answers!
Kids are not given enough credit when it comes to making decisions. They want to be informed and they are starting to talk to their parents. They want to “opt out” too. Not because it would be cool but because they feel duped and ignored. The feeling is that the students don’t get why someone would make a test that is not helpful. They are hurt by what they are finding out and want to stand up next to Luke. So they may not completely understand it (Tim has researched it for 3 years, it’s hard to understand) but they certainly can tell when they are being used.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PSSA left behind

So the PSSAs have started here. My kids aren't taking them.

For two weeks my kids tried to spread the word about the testing, that kids didn't actually have to take it, that their parents could simply and easily arrange for them to have an exemption. Most kids refused to believe them. A some did, however, and a few of them had parents that were willing to stand up and do what needed to be done to protect their children from pointless stress.

On the other side were third graders who thought that extra snacks and extra recess would more than make up for full days of testing. Plenty of children were really stressed out and now are feeling even worse. I know several kids whose parents assured me that their children were fine about it. No worries. But these same kids told my kids, and a couple even told me, that they were very anxious about the testing, their stomachs hurt, they were having headaches, and so on.

Yesterday my guys came home from school with tales of very jealous classmates who now wish that they had believed. Being tested like this sucks.

I saw the tests beforehand. In addition to the stress of just being tests for hours at a time, the tests themselves would be stress inducing because they are poorly designed tests. I did have to sign a confidentiality agreement so I can't say exactly what was on the tests, but if you look on the PA Dept of Ed website, you can see some samples. Questions that are vague, confusing, or poorly worded. Questions with more than one right answer or with no right answer. Math problems that our wonderfully horrible TERC/Pearson "Investigations" curriculum has not prepared kids to solve.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kids are different. Tests are not.

The people who came up with the plan of testing kids as young as eleven or ten or nine knew nothing about kids.

Kids all learn and grow and mature at different rates. I have tried to teach my own children that every person has unique talents as well as unique challenges. Learning to use your talents for good while learning to meet and master your challenges is your job in life. When I talk to my kids about religion, I tell them that their special talents and their special challenges are both gifts from God.

Standardized tests are fine for some things, I guess — as one part of the college admissions process or as one of several psychological diagnostic tools. But they are here used as one small part of the process.

Kids are not standardized.

I have two children. Both are boys. One figured out how to read before he was two years old. By the time he was in kindergarten, he was reading the New York Times. He still reads the Times. Math is a confusing struggle, and it's okay because he wants to be a filmmaker.

His brother has always been more interested in how things work. He had no interest in books as a toddler. Although, he still reads below grade level, eventually he'll catch up. But he can do math in his head. Mostly he just sees how things work. He wants to invent a time machine and knows more about physics, relativity, and something called gravitational time dilation, than any third grader you're likely to meet.

Two boys. Same parents. Same parenting. Same storybooks at bedtime. Same school. Same teachers. Two completely different test score profiles. No amount of test prep, test drills, or even special math or reading tutoring is going to change who they are. They just see and process their world differently. The only thing all that testing does is rob them of their childhood.

They are both so lucky to be in a school that celebrates their differences, nurtures their strengths and gently supports them in meeting their challenges. I don't care if their school fails to make AYP. What I do care about is that they both love school and love learning.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Busy weekend

My Op-Ed in the local paper has generated a lot of interest locally, but also online. Parents across the country are fed up with this testing. Even more so, we are all sick and tired of being left out of our children's education. The more the politicians claim that we are part of the process, the more you can bet we are actually left out.

Other Letters

Here are some other letters parents have submitted.

After reviewing your state mandated standardized test, I am hereby exercising our right to a religious exemption under state education law. Please kindly contact me to advise what alternative learning environment or opportunity will be provided for my child. Thank you for your consideration.


After looking over the content of the test and considering the process and consequences of the PSSA, my daughter will not be taking the test because it is clear to our family that our core beliefs and cherished values are being violated.


Dear Administrator

We are asking that you allow our son, (Name), to "opt out" of PSSA testing for religious reasons.

We are Unitarian Universalists with values rooted in the teaching of Jesus. Forced participation in state testing violates the following religious principles we value and strive to teach in our home.

"Unitarian Universalists believe in the never-ending search for truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations that appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and wondrously exciting." NCLB and PSSAs are antithetical to this belief. These tests assume a static truth and train the mind and heart to close to the possibilities of multiple answers or interpretations. They force children to believe in a single correct answer and that there is no need to search for knowledge -- knowledge is given. This contradicts the value we are trying to teach our son concerning curiosity and the endless possibilities available to him as he searches for his own truth.

As followers of the teachings of Jesus, Luke reminds us that Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" also "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. And finally, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” PSSAs are designed exclusively to judge and condemn children, teachers, schools, and communities. We are also trying to teach our son to be open to the possibilities that "others" sometimes have different values or ways of seeing the world. We do not want him to judge others for their differences. We hope that one day our son will recognize differences in others and value and celebrate those differences. PSSAs force children, teachers, and schools to devalue differences.

We also believe in the Ethic of Reciprocity or the Golden Rule -- we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. As a family, our belief in the Golden Rule encourages us to help our son learn the value of fairness. We want him to treat others fairly and we hope that he will in turn expect others to treat him fairly. PSSAs have been demonstrated to not treat differences in children fairly. They fail to recognize the multiple intelligences present in all children. PSSAs discriminate against students from lower socio-economic conditions and unfairly penalize students with special education needs.

In summary and respect, we would like you to permit our son to "opt out" of NCLB and PSSA testing this school year for the religious and cultural reasons stated above.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March 8, 2011

Michael Hardy

Acting Superintendent

State College Area School District

131 W. Nittany Ave

State College, PA 16801

Dear Mr. Hardy,

After consulting with attorneys at the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking with the Director of the Bureau of Assessment and Accountability at the Pennsylvania Department of Education in Harrisburg, and much soul searching, I am informing you that my children will not be participating in this years PSSA testing. Additionally, I am informing you that I have been actively encouraging other parents to arrange religious exemptions for their children. Again, I have spoken with education attorneys at the SPLC as well as Mary Bauer, the SPLC Legal Director. What I am doing is perfectly legal.

On Monday last, as per PA Code Title 22 Chapter 4, Section 4 (d)(5), I inspected the testing materials shipped from Data Recognition Corp, a Minnesota private company to which the state pays $30 million annually to have these tests printed and then scored. These tests are scored by armies of temporary workers with no training in education. If you do nothing else, please read this article: I also highly recommend the book, Making the Grades, by Todd Farley. Anyone involved in education and in the administration of these tests should be informed about the fraud being perpetrated on the American school system and the American taxpayers by the private testing industry.

I have signed the confidentiality agreement and informed the principal of my decision.

I refuse to have my children take part in the testing because it is in conflict with my religious beliefs. The PDE advised me that even a medical or psychological concern meets this criteria, as long as I claim it’s religious. However, in this case my Catholic faith teach me that it is a sin to participate in an action I know to be a fraud and to be harmful to my children and to my community. Ten years of research and analysis by academic experts working at universities from Penn State to Harvard (as opposed to politicians like Michelle Rhee or college drop-outs like Bill Gates) conclusively prove that high stakes like the PSSA testing harms children, undermines and restricts curriculums, and punishes schools that serve the most vulnerable members of our society — kids with special needs and kids in poverty. There are mountains of documentation out there. For a beginning reading list, I suggest you contact Dr. Timothy Slekar, Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State Altoona. You can contact him at

Under the law, you cannot deny my request. I have also confirmed this with the PDE. My children are a fifth grader at Park Forest Elementary and a third grader at the same wonderful school. I am opting them out of testing even though I know that this action will result in the school failing to meet AYP for the second year. I believe in public education. For years we have all known that NCLB is a bad law. In 2014, every school in the country must be at 100% proficiency. You and I both know that is not going to happen. We all keep hoping that the law will be changed even though it is long overdue for reauthorization, yet given the partisan grid-lock in Washington right now, thinking that it will get fixed any time soon is a fantasy. My faith tells me that the only way to do the right thing for my children, their school, children with disabilities and/or living in poverty, and the future of public education in this state is to call for a boycott of the testing, hoping against hope, that if enough parents join in, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1965, our voices will finally be heard.

I understand that you and others in the administration here really have your hands tied on this issue. Under the law you must get 95% of kids tested. But it’s wrong, sir. It is all based on lies and deceit and greed and corruption. My faith demands that we must fight against this. As an undergraduate at Santa Clara University in California I saw members of our university community including priests, going down to help the people in El Salvador, even after six priests were assassinated by right wing death squads. That’s my religious and educational tradition.

I know that everyone is terrified of a school failing to make AYP. But to continue to participate in this corrupt farce is to undermine the very core of public education. Those pushing for ever increasing testing and “accountability” have made their agenda crystal clear: school closings, vouchers and eventually privatization, turning over education to for-profit companies. Private schools run by the Catholic Church and the Friends Council on Education are not for profit; they do not participate in this testing; their students receive a great education. For-profit schools run by large Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) have a dismal record, but that is the next step as more and more schools fail to meet AYP as we approach 2014. Eventually all schools will be closed down, reorganized and ultimately turned over to private for-profit EMOs.

We are told that private for-profit companies can do a better job than you and others who are committed to public education because of the free market. The free market resulted in scandals ranging from Halliburton and Blackwater in Iraq, to the Enron debacle, to the recent outrage in our own backyard with private for-profit prisons for kids. When our tax dollars are involved, greed and corruption run rampant in the “free market.”

Please think about your role in this and if there is anything you can do to take a stand against the Big Lie that is NCLB and high-stakes standardized testing which threatens the future of the kids you serve.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From the Official PSSA Handbook

Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment: Section 4.4 of Chapter 4 provides for the right of any parents or guardians to excuse their child from the state assessment if, upon inspection of the testing materials, they find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious beliefs. This is the only basis for a parent or guardian to excuse his or her child from the statewide assessments.

Two weeks prior to each testing window, each assessment must be made available for review by parents and guardians. The assessment must be reviewed on school district property and district personnel must be present at all times. Districts must provide a convenient time for the review. This may include an evening review time, if requested. Proper security and confidentiality of the assessment must be maintained at all times throughout the review process. District personnel may remove the prompt seals from one copy of a writing booklet to facilitate a review of the writing assessment.

Parents and guardians must sign a locally prepared statement concerning the requirements of assessment security and confidentiality. A copy of this should be locally maintained. (It is not necessary to send this statement to PDE or DRC.) Parents and guardians may not photocopy, write down, or in any other manner record any portion of the assessments, including directions.

After reviewing the test, parents and guardians must provide a written request addressed to the Superintendent or Chief Academic Officer to excuse their child based upon religious conflict. The parents and guardians do not have to defend their religious beliefs, nor do they have to identify specific test content to which they object. Simply stating that they are requesting exclusion based on religious grounds is sufficient.

If the student is excused from the state assessment due to parental or guardian request, school personnel must provide an alternative learning environment for the student during the assessment and complete the “Non- Assessed Students” grid on the student’s answer booklet by marking “Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment.”

2011 PSSA Handbook for Assessment Coordinators (All Subjects) Page 12

Monday, March 7, 2011

Two options to not take the PSSA

There are two ways to not take the PSSA. One involves parents. The other is for students. Both will work. After reading the information here, please like us on Facebook and help spread the word.

Option 1: For Parents

(PA Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4 (d)(5) states : “If upon inspection of State assessments parents or guardians find the assessment in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request to the applicable school district superintendent, charter school chief executive officer or AVTS director.”)

I called the Pennsylvania Department of Education and spoke with the Bureau of Assessments. A religious belief can be as simple “I have a moral objection to upsetting my kids for no reason.” I told him that one of my kids had testing anxiety, and he advised me to get a religious exemption. I have also spoken with the legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In order to get a religious exemption, a parent must first make a quick visit to the school office to review the tests. After reviewing the tests, you have to sign a confidentiality agreement. Then you can either give your letter to the principal or send it to the superintendent at the district office. The important thing is that your request cannot be denied. The school district MUST provide a convenient time for the review, which may include an evening review time, if requested.

Taking the religious exemption is not lying or using religion. Every education expert in America has been telling us for years that NCLB is taking resources from the most vulnerable members of our society — children who live in poverty and children with disabilities. (Matthew 25:31-46) Please visit NCLB Testing: Stop the Madness Know the Truth for tons of links to research and commentary on these issues. Show your parents this article if all else fails.

Download and print out an article and give it to your superintendent or principal. And please know that even if they huff and puff, they are on our side. They are caught in an impossible position. They know this is bad for kids, bad for education, and bad for schools, but their jobs could be in jeopardy for saying so.

Option 2: For Students

The Bartleby Project. If you are a student in Pennsylvania and your parents, for whatever reason, don't go for the religious exemption, then you can join the Bartleby Project. First, however, visit the Facebook page and try to get your parents to read some of the information linked there. Print up some articles for them to read. Try to educate them. Be sure to educate yourself. Print up copies of articles to bring with you to show your teachers and your administration when they question you about refusing to take the test.

Again, I spoke with the PDE. There is nothing that the state will do to you if you refuse to take the test. There is nothing they can do. Your graduation requirements can be met in other ways. This is the law.

PA Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.24 (a) Requirements through the 2013-2014 school year. Each school district, including a charter school, shall specify requirements for graduation in the strategic plan under § 4.13 (relating to strategic plans). Requirements through the 2013-2014 school year must include course completion and grades, completion of a culminating project, results of local assessments aligned with the academic standards and a demonstration of proficiency in Reading, Writing and Mathematics on either the State assessments administered in grade 11 or 12 or local assessment aligned with academic standards and State assessments under § 4.52 (relating to local assessment system) at the proficient level or better to graduate. The purpose of the culminating project is to assure that students are able to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and communicate significant knowledge and understanding.

In other words, since the state allows parents to opt their kids out for religious reasons, it has to provide an alternative for those kids. And if the alternative is good enough for them, it's good enough for you.

Please educate yourself on these issues. Do not refuse to take the test just because you hate taking the tests. Also please share this information, this site, the facebook page and the links there with your friends and their parents. Only the united voices of students and parents can tell Harrisburg and Washington that these test are bad for kids, bad for education, and bad for school. It's time to let teacher teach.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March Madness: 'My name is Luke and I refuse to take your test'

This is a reposting of an article column in the Washington Post yesterday.

March Madness: 'My name is Luke and I refuse to take your test'
By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Timothy D. Slekar, head of the Division of Education, Human Development and Social Sciences at Penn State Altoona, and a parent. This appeared on The Huffington Post.

By Timothy D. Slekar

"I'm inviting you to join a real conspiracy, call it an open conspiracy, with real consequences on millions of real lives. I know that sounds megalomaniacal, but be patient. If we pull this off, a great many will bless us, although the school industry few will curse us. This is about a project to destroy the standardized testing industry... This adventure is called 'The Bartleby Project.'" John Taylor Gatto. (Weapons of Mass Instruction, New Society Publishers 2008)

My 11-year-old son loves the show Myth Busters. From the first time he put two Legos together he was hooked on constructing intricate things (200 piece Bionicles at age 5). He creates Rube Goldberg contraptions and loves animals. He can manipulate through different technologies (Google Earth, iPad, iPod, Facebook, Sims, etc) and he doesn't need instructions because his curiosity enables him to navigate and learn new technologies. He also loves football. He watches the NFL channel around the clock and can give you just about any statistic related to the game or players. This is just a snapshot. A quick glimpse of my son outside the insidious institution we call public schooling today.

I am currently thinking hard about asking my son to participate in the Bartleby Project and to write "I prefer not to take your test" across the top of his state test in March. In Pennsylvania we don't celebrate March Madness. Instead we practice it. March is the month when Pennsylvania schools administer the Pennsylvania State System of Assessments (the PSSAs). The entire school year comes down this one week in March. This is when schools and students across the Keystone State are held accountable. This is the big time. This is what it's all about.

Please read the rest of his column here.

Dr. Slekar will be at the screening of the film "Race to Nowhere" tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Young Scholars of Central PA Charter School located at 1530 Westerly Parkway. After the film, he will be taking part in a panel discussion of these issues.

Bartleby Project 2011: Do not take your state tests!

Pearson Education

The industry leader is Pearson, a multi-national company headquartered in London. It's the largest publisher of educational materials as well as the biggest educational testing company.

In our community we have a major university, Penn State. At Penn State you can get a Ph.d. in Education and/or Mathematics. Our school district purchased the Pearson Math Curriculum. The Pearson logo is at the bottom every homework sheet my son brings home. Everyone in town hates this curriculum.
For more than a year, parents have called for the removal of the district’s elementary conceptually-based math curriculum, “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” saying it does not provide enough rigor and is responsible for declining rankings on state-standardized tests.

Pearson has just announced their newest line of products: The Nation's First Elementary Grades Common Core Math Program. But will it actually be better. Maybe not. According to Farley, who has actually seen the new materials it's the same old program repacked.
But are the Common Core Standards really "revolutionary"? Or are they fundamentally the same as the sets of standards that currently exist in each of the 50 states, different only in their wording? That is the question I recently set out to answer, when -- in an heroic act of corporate espionage that I undertook for you, dear readers -- I stealthily broke into the computer item bank of an assessment company I used to work for to look at their test questions and standards.

What did I find? Maybe I'm wrong, but I think I found the Common Core Standards look a lot like every other set of state standards I worked with over the years (that is, a list or grid of overblown educational rhetoric describing the simple skills American students should have mastered). For instance, the following multiple-choice question (written to a passage about feuding neighbors) is aligned to the Common Core Standards.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Garbage in. Garbage out.

The PSSA tests are prepared and scored by a private firm in Minnesota called Data Recognition Corporation.

The actual test booklets arrived in boxes last week all over Pennsylvania. Right now they are being sorted and stacked in every principal's office in every school. Parents have the right to review the tests before their children take them. At least that is the law in Pennsylvania. We just have to sign a confidentiality agreement. I reviewed the ones at my children's school on Monday.

The taxpayers of Pennsylvania pay $30 million every year to Data Recognition Corp (DRC) to develop, print and score these tests every year.

In May of 2009, the Pennslyvania Department of Education (PDE) signed a $200 million contract with DRC to create and administer the Keystone High School Graduation Exams. (Patriot News 5/15/2009, confirmed on 2/28/11 in phone call to reporter at the Patriot News.)

The CEO of DRC, Susan Engeleiter, is a Republican who ran for the US Senate in 1988. Bush Sr. appointed her to head the Small Business Administration, and then she was VP for Government Affairs until 1998, when she goes to DCR. In Dec 2008, she becomes CEO of DRC, and boasts of how she landed a $110 million contract with Ohio for their new high school tests. "When I arrived, we were not particularly profitable," Engeleiter said. "We've aggressively gone after new clients."

Then she donated $6,000 to Democrat Ed Rendell’s reelection campaign. DRC Chairman, Russ Hagen, also a Republican in Minn, donated $16,000 to Rendell. $10,000 of which was donated to Rendell in 2007 (record 257) — AFTER he had already won reelection and had a surplus over $1 million in his reelection fund. Lobbyists for DRC in Harrisburg have served in the administrations of Ridge, Rendell and now Corbett. I spoke with Tim Potts of Democracy Rising PA, a government watchdog group. Mr. Potts told me in a phone call on 3/1/2011 that the term for this kind of deal is "pay-to-play".

The tests are scored by temporary workers with no training in education in what some have described as “sweat shop conditions.”

DRC annually hires 4,000 temporary workers at $11-$13 an hour to score these tests. I called the human resource department of DRC (1-800-835-4697). To be hired as a test scorer one only needs to claim a four year degree, provide a short writing sample, solve two math problems, and attend an orientation/training session. The person from personnel told me that the "training session" was actually more of a recruitment event. DRC is now actively hiring scorers for the PSSAs.

There is a shocking article in City Pages, a Minneapolis weekly. The reporter interviewed people who had worked as scorers. The stories they recount clearly demonstrate how arbitrary and capricious the scoring is. Every parent, teacher, and student needs to read this article at a bare minimum.

The article described haphazard grading by people who have no idea what constitutes good writing. Those who do care are cancelled out by those who don't. For supervisors, pressure is extreme to create a bell curve so that no matter how well schools or students are actually doing, a certain percentage will ALWAYS be on the wrong end of that curve. Supervisors just changes scores to get the desired results so that they will get paid.
[Todd] Farley now understood the reasons why, when he'd been a scorer, his team leaders would tell the room he wanted to start seeing more 3s or 4s or whatever. Supervisors were expected to turn the test scores into a nice bell curve. If his room did not agree at least 80 percent of the time, the tests would be taken back and re-graded, wasting time and money. The supervisor would be put on probation or demoted.

When Farley complained to a fellow supervisor about his problem, she smiled wryly and held up a pencil.

"I've got this eraser, see," she told him. "I help them out."

So Farley simply began changing Harry's scores to agree with his peers'. The practice soon spread well beyond Harry.

"I'd just change a bunch of answers to make it look like my group was doing a great job," Farley says. "I wanted the stupid item to be done, and so did my bosses."

I have spoken now with serveral people who have done this kind of work. They all confirm the details.

To see an actual example of how repetitive, confusing essays are given perfect scores, while clear, concise writing is penalized look at this example of actual tests and how they were scored.

For more information also see Dan Dimaggio's article of his experiences as a test scorer. Or read Making the Grades by Todd Farley