Reader View: Parents can halt excessive testing

Cate Moses

Correction appended

Gov. Susana Martinez’s Public Education Department recently contracted with global testing giant Pearson for Common Core PARCC testing in New Mexico public schools.

Pearson creates and grades the GED and nearly every K-12 standardized test in the U.S. It owns junk virtual schools, sells junk curricula that panders to its tests and controls teacher certification exams. It has come under fire for sloppy, error-ridden and developmentally inappropriate tests, improper no-bid contracting, sabotaging student teachers and running “school improvement programs” in Atlanta, where its employees are charged with cheating in the largest test-cheating scandal in the U.S.

Standardized testing has no proven educational value. Teachers, parents and students never see the tests, before or after they are graded. Testing corporations are sucking billions out of our public schools. Their greed, not children’s needs, is driving every decision in public education.

Test results are widely abused for purposes like teacher and school evaluation. Our children and teachers are being subjected to Dickensian regimes in order to keep Pearson’s profits soaring and “reformers” like Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd in business.

Students are being over-tested as never before. The ridiculous argument recently made by SFPS Board of Education member Steven Carrillo that, “We’ve always had tests; what’s the problem?” belies current reality. Santa Fe Public Schools mandates testing above excessive state requirements. Although the school district denies it, anyone with kids in school knows that testing now consumes roughly two full months of the school year.

High-stakes testing disrupts every class in a school, including those not being tested that day. It takes over libraries and computer labs. Field trips and everything involving learning, creativity and critical thinking are considered time-wasting activities, because they are not about the tests. Teachers are under surveillance and edict to make every “instructional moment” test prep.

With the phasing in of Common Core, testing has increased. Kindergartners are required to submit to tests on computers, creating scenarios like this one, described by a kindergarten teacher on the Seattle Education blog: “One class took five hours to finish. Kids crying in four of five classes. Multiple computer crashes. … Kids accidentally swapping tangled headsets and not even noticing what they heard had nothing to do with what they saw on the screen. … No verbal explanation that you must click the little speaker square to hear the instructions. To go to the next question, one clicks ‘next’ in lower right-hand corner … which is also where the pop-up menu comes up to take you to other programs or shut down. … If this is not what you want for your kids and grandkids, you’d better start making some noise. … ”

The power to end the grossly excessive testing of our children is in parents’ hands. We have the right to opt our children out of all state and district required testing. It is the simplest act we can undertake for our children and for public education. When a critical mass of parents opts out, we will bring down the house of cards that is profit-driven education “reform.”

The reformers know this, and they are afraid. Teachers and staff who inform parents about their right to opt out are being gagged by district administrators. Parents are being told that their decision to opt out is harming children and schools.

When parents stand united with teachers to end standardized testing, we can bring joy, critical thinking and creativity to our schools.

Cate Moses, Ph.D., is a Santa Fe educator, artist, and mother and grandmother of children in Santa Fe and Albuquerque public schools.

Correction: Oct. 6, 2014

An opinion article by Cate Moses published Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, on the Education page of The New Mexican was incorrect in asserting that the state has a contract with testing giant Pearson for $1 billion. Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the state Public Education Department, said the contract will cost New Mexico $6.5 million a year. The state is also part of a consortium of 14 states known as PARCC — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — which altogether might end up paying Pearson $1 billion over eight years.