For the past several weeks I’ve been getting reports from parents in different parishes across the state of Louisiana describing how their school systems are handling parents choosing to opt their children out of the PARCC test. The opt-out movement started in part because parents have gotten fed up with all the testing parishes are doing in place of teaching, and have chosen to have their voices heard by taking a stand against this abusive practice by refusing to have their children tested in the secret and unknown test that Superintendent John White secretly procured, or produced with in-house staff. (For simplicity’s stake I will refer to it as the PARCC test, although Louisiana is not currently a PARCC participant and has no direct contract with the vendor that produces and grades the PARCC exam. )
Testing has gotten out of control in public education in our country. Some parishes may given dozens of different standardized tests to students throughout the year. Some of these tests help teachers identify weak areas to focus on for particular students. Some tests, like NAEP, are assigned to students randomly, in small groups, and districts do not spend time “prepping” students for them. Most parents are not as concerned with those tests. The test category that has gained much in popularity, complexity, and overuse is the High Stakes test. These tests are not used to help individual students that take them, they are designed to grade and evaluate teachers, schools and school districts. Principals can be fired, teachers can be fired, schools can be taken over or closed, and entire school districts can be chopped apart and sold to the highest bidder. Conversely, principals, teachers and schools can be recognized and even rewarded for top performances on this test. This arrangement drives the actual curriculum being taught. This arrangement has resulted in some horrible situations in our schools.
I have had multiple reports from parents in Central School district, Rapides Parish and Terrebonne describing how the school year basically ends after the Winter break and constant test prep begins. A large portion, or entire portion, of class days are spent taking practice PARCC tests and reviewing sample PARCC questions. Sometimes children are sent home with tests to practice at home. Sometimes children are send home with all of their other subject material they could not cover in class because of all the time spent on test prep. This obsession with pursuing higher and higher scores has crowded out Social Studies, Reading, PE, Art, Music, Computer Lab, Foreign Language and Science. Those are subjects which are not used in High Stakes testing and not valued as highly, so they have been dispensed with in many schools, or relegated to homework assignments sent home and not reviewed in class.
Regardless of whether we have Common Core or not, the testing craze has got to stop. Education is more than just a math and ELA score, at least to most parents. John White actually told LDOE in his first address to the department that in his opinion education is only about Math and ELA scores. It appears he has gotten his wish.
BESE and LDOE have refused to weigh in on this subject publicly. However privately I’ve learned that LDOE is sending sending out e-mails and making phone calls to districts to suggest ways to bully or bribe parents into not opting out or changing their minds. This has led to some crazy and irresponsible messages from schools across the state being sent to parents and children. Because there is no authoritative guidelines or ruling on this issue, some districts are behaving badly.
When I go to speak with folks about my campaign I spend a lot of the time trying to dispel myths and reassure parents:
- that their children will not be haunted with zeros for the rest of their lives
- that they will not be held back next year, that they will not be kept out of advanced work or honors programs
- that they will not be kept out of extracurricular activities.
I also get contacted through my Facebook page, blog and e-mail with questions and concerns. I don’t mind doing this of course, but it seems pretty obvious that LDOE and BESE are shirking their duties here.
Some parishes and principals are being downright spiteful. Take this note from Principal Carol Shelton in Calcasieu Parish.
DES Testing Incentives
In the past, we have given a 30 minute recess to the entire school when we were 100% tested. Due to the few “opt outs” that I have received, we will no longer be able to do that. So. . . . we will give a 30 minute recess to all the classes that are 100% tested.
In the past we have given a “free dress” for all students that scored basic and above, we can’t do that this year because test results will not be available until the fall. So…. . every student that is ‘on time,’completes each day of testing, and tries their best will receive a “free dress” sticker.
She appears to be taunting the parents who are opting their kids out by sending a letter home that it will be the fault of the kids who opted out if the rest of their class doesn’t get a 30 minute recess. I’m pretty sure this will make the kids opting out the least liked kids in the school and the subject of taunting and bullying. Carol also makes a claim that they give free dress passes for top scorers, so you can identify the dummies from the smart kids I guess? Way to be Carol. Humiliating the struggling kids in your school is what good principals do. Obviously you take your school slogan to heart “Developing and nurturing the greatness within each of us!” (I wonder if there is a second part to this slogan that involves crapping on everyone else?)
One last thing Carol; ellipses. . . you’re doing them wrong. I hope those aren’t on the PARCC exam because you’d fail…. …… .
(I’m probably doing lots of stuff wrong but I ain’t no principal of a school neither.)
In West Baton Rouge Parish the system Superintendent is demanding parents meet with him during working hours on the test days, then take their kids home during the testing, and then bring them back after the testing. It’s not clear why this policy is defined this way. It appears to be little more than an extra hurdle designed to intimidate and inconvenience parents instead of just having the kids attend a study hall or get in some time at the library.
Some other reports I’ve received involved drawings for free iPads and other prizes for students taking these tests, a teacher telling a student who opted out that his mother thinks he’s too dumb to pass the PARCC exam and that that if students like him don’t shape up the Chinese will overrun us , threats of sending truancy officers after parents who keep their kids home, and PR pieces that warn parents if their school’s scores drop their property values will go down.
BESE and LDOE need to put a stop to this nonsense by issuing clear guidance to districts on how to handle these situations. They are the ones imposing these tests on the children and parents in our state, they should be the ones to clean up the mess. It’s kinda’ in their job description. They also need to place a ban on test prep. How meaningful can these tests be if some districts are gaming the system by force feeding PARCC down children’s throats while other districts are trying to educate their kids? If this strategy works even a little bit will the takeaway be that all districts should eliminate all subjects but ELA and Math test prep and start on the first day of “school”? Maybe we could swap out summer reading lists for summer test prep instead? That will show the Chinese!