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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 05/31/2012

What parents say testing is doing to their kids

This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

By Carol Corbett Burris

The politicians who believe in using tests to judge schools and teachers will tell you that their efforts are designed to help our nation’s children. How odd it is, then, that they never ask parents what they think. While testing expands like a balloon in the lives or our youngest students, there is no curiosity about what cannot be recorded on the scantron sheet.

In order to find out what was on our parents’ minds, a group of New York principals created a short survey to give parents and teachers an opportunity to share their opinions. Over the course of two weeks, we were astounded by the results.

Over 8,000 parents across New York State responded to our online survey regarding their children’s experiences with the recent New York State 3-8 Assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics. Over 6,000 teachers of students in Grades 3-8 weighed in on our teacher survey, as well. Although these surveys were informal, it would be a mistake to ignore what we learned.

The New York State parents who responded expressed serious concerns regarding the impact that tests have had on their children’s health and their learning. Of the 8,000 responding parents:

* 75% reported their child was more anxious in the month before the test

* Nearly 80% reported that test prep prevented their child from engaging in meaningful school activities.

* 87% reported that the current amount of time devoted to standardized testing is not a good use of their child’s school time.

* 95% were opposed to increasing the number and length of tests

* 91% were opposed to standardized tests for K-2

* 65% reported that too much time is devoted to test prep

In addition to responses to questions, nearly 4,000 of the respondents left comments and short anecdotes.

Parents reported that their children displayed physical symptoms caused by test anxiety, including tics, asthma attacks, digestive problems and vomiting. Parents also wrote anecdotes that reported:

* Sleep disruption, crying

* Refusal to go to school

* Feelings of failure, increasing as the tests progressed

* Complaints of boredom and restlessness from students who finished early and were required to sit still for the full 90 minutes of each test.

Teachers echoed many of the same concerns.

* 65% of over 6000 responding teachers said that their students did not have enough time for independent reading, project-based learning and critical thinking

* 89% of teachers reported that their students became more anxious in the month prior to testing and during testing itself

* 88% said that test prep had impacted the time spent on non-tested subjects such as science and art

* Fewer than 3% believed that their students’ learning had increased because of testing.

Teachers, like parents, reported that students were anxious, stressed, nervous, exhausted, overwhelmed and suffered from headaches and stomach pains.

Parents and teachers are not alone in their testing concerns. Even the cautious and conservative New York State School Boards Association ran a story about the principals’ concerns with testing and carefully annotated Principal Sharon Fougner’s letter to Commissioner John King, documenting the reasoning and examples she provided.

In June, some parents in New York will be standing up and fighting back. They are organizing a boycott of yet another round of testing, the field tests for future Pearson exams. When the Wall Street Journal asked New York State Education Commissioner King about the impending boycott of the field tests, he opined that parents were missing a larger point and that “adults need to set a positive tone for students around assessment as a natural part [of education].”

Dismissal of sincere parental concerns about testing sends a troubling message. As a parent of an eight year old recently told me, “If my son takes a test, what is learned should be about helping him and nothing else. My child should not be a guinea pig for some adult evaluation experiment nor should he have to take tests to try out the next story about a talking pineapple. His oldest sister wasn’t tested for days at time in third grade. Every day he is tested is a day he does not learn.”

In anecdote after anecdote provided by parents to our survey we heard the same message — when it comes to testing, parents have had enough.

Those who believe in driving school improvement by test data would be wise to take heed. As they search for solutions in the data, they are losing the confidence of our nation’s parents.

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