Monday, June 01, 2015

EDUCATION - Anti-Standardized Testing Movement

"What galvanized standardized testing’s opt-out movement" PBS NewsHour 5/26/2015


SUMMARY:  As the school year draws to a close, many students are taking standardized tests tied to the Common Core.  But in some communities there has been a strong backlash, with parents deciding to opt out of having their children participate.  The NewsHour’s William Brangham talks to special correspondent for education John Merrow and Motoko Rich of The New York Times.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Parents, in fact, are deciding to opt out.  More specifically, their children are simply not taking year-end standardized tests, such as the PARCC exam or another one known as Smarter Balanced.

The movement has been relatively small in total numbers.  But it picked up a lot of support this year in places like New York State, where as many as 165,000 students opted out.  In New Jersey, 15 percent of the high schoolers who were slated to take the tests chose not to do so.  It’s also been an issue in Florida and elsewhere.

We fill in the picture with John Merrow, our special correspondent for education, who reported on this earlier this spring, and Motoko Rich, a national education reporter for The New York Times who has been covering this.

Motoko Rich, I would like to start with you.

I wonder if you could tell me, this movement seemingly came out of — somewhat come out of nowhere.  We have had standardized testing for a fairly long time.  I wonder, why this moment?  What are the concerns, and why have they sprung up now?

MOTOKO RICH, The New York Times:  Well, I think there have been — it’s sort of a perfect storm of concern, so it’s not just about testing.  A lot of people that I talked to said, it’s not the test themselves that they object to.  It’s what they’re being used for and what they’re based on.

So, we first had this movement to introduce new academic standards known as the Common Core, which were adopted by more than 40 states.  And, in general, they’re much more rigorous than the standards that came before.  And so in the development of new tests to measure whether or not students were reaching those standards and whether teachers were teaching to those standards, the tests became harder.

And when they were first administered in New York State, the proportion of students that passed these tests fell fairly drastically.  So, you used to have something like 70 percent or 80 percent of students were passing the test, and then it dropped to about 30 percent.  So, that really created a lot of concern.  And that was last year.

So, this year, when the test was administered, I think there was already a lot of anxiety out there.  And then, on top of that, Governor Cuomo here in New York decided that he wanted to make teacher evaluations more rigorous.  And he was concerned that so many teachers had been rated as effective or highly effective the year earlier.

And so he proposed that 50 percent of their evaluations be based on the student test scores.  And I think that was really the moment that galvanized a lot of parents and teachers who were talking to the parents to say, wait a minute.  That’s not what we want the test to be used for.

As it turned out, that proposal didn’t pass, but, by then, I think there had been a lot of momentum about it.  A lot of parents were concerned that these tests were being used in a way that they didn’t deem appropriate.

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