Houston, we have a (testing) problem

Our students are over-tested and over-stressed. Non educators are falling for the pretense that standardized testing is essential in determining the present levels of our students. Sadly, these tests often become political pawns that check-mate public ignorance. These tests usually enforced with mandates that are extremely underfunded. The worst part is that our students are losing valuable instruction time, which could instead promote creativity and learning. Creativity and learning are now being sacrificed for test-prep and putting money into testing company pockets.

The beginning of this post may be dry, but I think that a lot of my readers aren’t in the education realm, and may need some information about the current testing landscape. I won’t even begin to dive into any testing subjects, aside from 3rd grade reading.

The Oklahoma Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) will be in full force this year. I’m not going to pretend that I am an expert in this bill, but I definitely have an opinion about it.

If you don’t know what RSA is, you can access the Oklahoma SDE’s information site here. The OSDE states,  “a third-grade student cannot be promoted to the fourth grade if he or she scores Unsatisfactory on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT)”.  However, there are six “good cause” exemptions for some students that score Unsatisfactory.

I’m going to summarize these exemptions in (mostly) my own words: 1) Students categorized as “English Language Learners” with less than two years of ELL instruction. This child must be identified as ELL prior to the administration of the test. 2) Students with IEP’s, that are being assessed with the Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program (OAAP). This is basically students with a Mild, Moderate, Severe, or Profound Intellectual Disability, and/or a student that has been projected to need significant adaptive skills supports for the remainder of their life. 3) Students who perform in the minimum of the 45th percentile, on an alternate standardized reading test that is deemed acceptable by the OSDE. 4) Students who demonstrate through a teacher- developed portfolio that they can read on grade level (Copied from OSDE). 5) Students with disabilities who take the OCCT and have an IEP that states they have received intense remediation in reading for more than two years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and were previously retained one year or were in a transitional grade during kindergarten, first-, second- or third- grade. 6) Students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and who already have been retained in kindergarten, first-grade, second- grade or third-grade for a total of two years. Transi- tional grades count (Copied from OSDE).

These exemptions seem fine on paper, but actually hold very little traction with me. Most of these exemptions are targeted towards students with IEP’s, students that have difficulty with the English language, and students that have previously been identified as having a difficulty in reading.  Here is my main problem with these “good cause” exemptions: as a special education teacher, I am getting sick and tired of acting as if the majority of students with a (specific learning) disability are identified prior to the 3rd grade. At the high school level, I would guess that our school psychologist conducts over a dozen initial IEP’s/evaluations per year, this is being generous, and this is just at the high school level. This does not account for students that are in middle school, upper elementary, or transient students that are not in one school long enough to be evaluated for special services. These exemptions (and the test) also don’t account for our students that have to worry about: food, shelter, clothing, and transportation on a daily basis. In most circumstances these variables can be just as intrusive to a child’s education as a learning disability. I would hate for one of these variables to become a determining factor in the retention of a child. 

To be fair, if the student is retained and meets the certain criteria the following year, he/she may be promoted mid-year. However, I wonder how the student will fair when he/she is placed in the 4th grade classroom mid-year and has not received instruction for other 4th grade subject areas? I would rather the SDE provide additional funding for reading specialists, and allow these students to continue with their peers while receiving “intense remediation” for reading. Too often, our reading and math specialists are being pulled into administrative duties, covering classes, and/or serving as testing monitors, because schools are incredibly understaffed and underfunded.

Another reason  that I am incredibly against this high-stakes test, and the consequences of this test, is because I couldn’t find clear-cut research and data that prove that these types of retention are beneficial. If you asked the OSDE, they would claim that it has be extremely beneficial in Florida. Here is OSDE’s RSA information sheet, and here is the Florida Department of Education’s “Read to Learn” information sheet.  These documents contain strikingly similar content. One of my biggest education pet-peeves is when students from different parts of the country, with different experiences and backgrounds, are de-individualized. Oklahoma’s students are different from Florida’s students, these processes should not be implemented until there is concrete proof that this  is beneficial to students. Rob Miller does a great job of showing that Florida’s 4th grade reading scores are higher when compared to Oklahoma. BUT, Oklahoma’s ACT scores are higher and nearly identical to the national ACT score. You can access this post here: Florida is NOT a Benchmark! The ACT is a test that actually has postsecondary implications, although it is designed for students that are college bound. It’s important to analyze all data, and in my opinion it is too early to determine if this retention plan has been beneficial in other states.

I am extremely concerned about this retention law, because it increases the likelihood that authentic learning will be decreased in the classroom.  I feel that this law could potentially increase dropout rates for students that are not college bound. Students that turn 18 earlier in high school (because of forced retention), may choose the path of dropout, thus decreasing the likelihood of enrollment in a career-based academic path, such as vocational technology school.

This retention law is creating the increased rhetoric about our students’ failure, which leads to a discussion about teacher failure. The frustrating part is that this rhetoric is being shared by both political parties. In a time where our two major political parties cannot agree on anything, some politicians within these parties are agreeing on demoralizing our schools. I believe that the end goal with this rhetoric is privatization. Rob Miller blogged recently about the kindergarten testing rhetoric in Oregon. I’m not opposed to purposeful  testing that leads to the enrichment of instructional practices. I am opposed to the use of testing data that leads to the further marginalization of student groups. I sincerely hope that the politicians that are so desperately fighting for school choice, will fight equally as hard for parents to have the right to push promotion regardless of the test score.

I guess all I desire is that our students are treated as individual learners, rather than identical test takers. I desire that people stop pretending that they understand how it feels to be one of these elementary, middle, or high school students that is crushed with high stakes and high stress tests: and start realizing that school has changed considerably since they were a student. I desire for the state to stress the importance of creative arts and creative learning, rather than rote data memorization, which won’t prove to have longterm learning retainment.

I also desire for Janet Barresi to realize the hypocrisy of her ways. As stated last week by Barresi, “Reading is not a measure of intelligence. Reading is a skill. Children acquire the skill in many different ways”.  I desire for Janet Barresi to realize that children do learn in different ways, but we are deciding their promotion to 4th grade in the same way as the student sitting next to them. I desire for authentic learning to occur after Spring Break!

We need to stop the rhetoric, and continue to progress a grassroots movement from teachers, parents, students, administrators, and stakeholders to stand up against this injustice. I think that the discussion has to begin with conversations like this: The Elephants in the (Class)Room.

If you still think that standardized tests are even close to the most important aspect of education, please Google #evaluatethat.

What are your thoughts?

*Not having to do anything with testing, I would like to promote a blog from a fellow educator.  She does not reside in Oklahoma anymore, but her recent post was too good to pass up. Kali, great job with this post- the complexion of your pigment.

Also, at the suggestion of my professional organization president, I have created a Facebook group for the blog: Excellence in Mediocrity.  I don’t know how often I will update it, because Grad. School is weighing down on me, but who knows?

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12 Responses to Houston, we have a (testing) problem

  1. Cari Manzer says:

    Another amazing post! And spot on!

  2. Erika says:

    Could not agree more!!! My biggest fear is this will increase the drip out rate in Oklahoma. There’s no doubt that will happen.

  3. Pingback: Writing Tests: Let the SNAFUs begin! | okeducationtruths

  4. “:I am opposed to the use of testing data that leads to the further marginalization of student groups.” Love it!

  5. Joe Eddins says:

    You are correct.
    Jeb bush is the only supporter of his Florida (not) success.
    Retention has been tried many times without success.
    Test – Punish only goal is to take over a school site or district by saying it fails. If more than a few children are punished, there is political backlash that simple bully tactics cannot contain. So , do we actually lower the standards so only a politically acceptable low number of children are humiliated? If all pass, why give the test? I would like to talk with you further if you have time.

    • Mr. Eddins,

      You are correct! This retention push is a clear push towards privatization! I do feel that it sets up educators for no win situations. I honestly believe that you are correct about all students passing…What would this benefit? I believe that we first must address the fundamental questions of: 1) What are we (stakeholders) trying to benefit from the assessment? 2) What would the assessment benefit the student? 3) How can the assessment data be used to drive instruction for each individual student? 4) Do our assessments continually reinforce the same demographic(s) of students continually scoring negative?… If so, is our instruction failing these students? and/or Are these tests discriminative towards/against the succeeding and failing demographics?

      What are your thoughts? Also, I’m curious as to where you reside, and if you are in an education role? How did you stumble across the blog? I like to know the demographic of my readers.

      Thanks for your support!

  6. Christa Malcolm says:

    Amen! I have had brilliant students that were struggling readers. Reading is a skill! On the retention topic….the “data” behind retention is … it does not work. Research it! One of my fifth graders said” why would they expect all students to be the same when we all learn differently at different ages”. That is a quote from a ten year old that gets it!

  7. Pingback: Retention, Petitions, and House Bills, OH MY! | Excellence in Mediocrity

  8. Pingback: Oklahoma: Under the Affluence of Janet Costello Barresi Since 2011 | Excellence in Mediocrity

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