Student ‘zombies’ protest standardized tests

The year-long revolt against high-stakes standardized testing by teachers, parents, principals and superintendents and others is being increasingly fueled by students.

In Providence, R.I., dozens of students decked out to look like zombies staged a rally recently at the State House to protest a requirement, which takes effect with the class of 2014, that students must attain a certain score on the New England Common Assessment Program test to graduate from high school, according to the Providence Journal.

A Facebook page has been created called Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing.

In Oregon, students are organizing an opt-out campaign to persuade other students not to take state standardized tests. Here’s a Q & A I did by e-mail with one of the organizers, high school student Alexia Garcia.

Q) Tell me about the “opt out” movement you and other students in Portland are starting.

A) We have two Student Unions in Portland and when we finally connected, we realized that one issue we’ve both talked about was standardized testing and it’s role in evaluation of students, teachers and schools. The idea for an opt-out came up a couple of times during discussions, however no action was taken till after hearing that students were about to start taking their state writing tests. From there we immediately organized and educated ourselves on the process of opting out and impacts opting out would have on the schools.

We see these standardized tests as an inaccurate depiction of student knowledge, they’re expensive and take time from real class time, they do not provide comprehensive feedback to teachers, and scores have an extremely high correlation with class and race. We are opting out because we want to send a greater message that students’ knowledge cannot be quantified, and about how there is so much more to a student than their test scores show. We want people to know that students, teachers and schools should not be evaluated on scores that have an extremely high correlation with class and race. We are asking for a more holistic approach to education, one controlled locally with 360 evaluations done by students, teachers, parents and community members.

Q) Tell me more about your personal experience with standardized tests.

A) I am a senior in high school, and I’ve been taking standardized tests ever since 2nd grade or 3rd grade. I remember really stressing out over the tests as an elementary and middle school student. There is a lot of pressure put on students to do well on them. Teachers would do practice tests with us and teach us techniques to doing well on the test. I have always been a really slow test taker, so it’s been one of those things where I have not finished with the rest of my class and had to be pulled out of additional class to finish. Once I started high school I realized that these tests were not actually as important as they are made out to be, in that they were not related to the class, but simply an additional state requirement. The material on the tests was not relevant to what I had been learning in class. Also, teachers would have to stop mid-unit to administer the tests, that was something that really frustrated me as a student. We would be learning something actually interesting, then have to take a day or two off to test.

Q) How many students are involved in the opt-out campaign at the moment and How many do you think you can get to join? How do you plan to do it?

A)  I’d say there are about 40 students actively organizing the campaign between the two Student Unions. As for participation in the opt-out, we will be having the schools’ respective Student Unions pass out information at lunch, hang posters in the schools, and hold “teach-ins” to explain the goals of the campaign as well as the process of opting out.

I think we’ll get a considerable percentage of students opting out because these tests are optional and most students take the SAT, ACT, PSAT, and IB or AP anyways (PSAT and ACT are offered for free at school), all of which are alternative ways to demonstrate proficiency in the required areas. Also, showing proficiency in science is not required for graduation, therefore all students can easily opt-out without fear of being able to graduate.

 Q) What impact are you hoping to have on the education reform debate?

We’re hoping to send a greater message to the Department of Education about how students really do care about our education. For as long as we’ve been in school, our generation has seen nothing but cuts to our education system. Over the years we’ve seen increased class sizes, less community control over our schools, and a movement towards standardization. We are standing up to say the system needs to change and public education needs to be better funded.

Clearly standardized testing is a hot topic right now, and we hope to impact that conversation. Standardized testing is an all encompassing issue, we see the concerns about equity in the education system as test scores have such a high correlation with race and class, not to mention the racial biases built into the tests. Then there is the issue of expense to districts, the issues surrounding evaluation, and the issue with a lack of community control over school. These are all things we as students would like to add to the education reform debate. In all, we are asking for a more holistic approach to education, meaning less standards, and more community based evaluation and control.

 

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | February 17, 2013