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Mom: My third grader is losing 6-8 weeks this year to standardized testing — for no good reason


Amy Frogge is an attorney, grant writer, and active public school parent who represents District 9 on Nashville’s Metropolitan Board of Public Education. She recently wrote a Facebook post on public schools and the focus on standardized testing that went viral. You can read it below.

Frogge’s two children attend Gower Elementary School, where she served as president of the PTO for the 2010-11 school year and continues to be deeply involved. As PTO President, she streamlined the organization; helped build parent, staff and community involvement; and improved the school’s visibility in the community, while developing numerous partnerships with local businesses and other organizations to bring innovative programs to Gower.

Frogge is a big supporter of neighborhood public schools, and sees the key to educational success as engaging parents and the community in the schools. She seeks to shift focus from test-taking skills only to educating the whole child through programs that involve physical activity, unstructured and creative play, proper nutrition, and exposure to nature and the arts.

She and her family — including a “motley assortment” of rescue pets — live in Nashville, where she works as a grant writer for Room In The Inn’s Campus for Human Development.

Here is the piece she posted on her Facebook page, which I am publishing with her permission:

For four years now, I have been complaining that standardized testing is completely out of hand, but for years, complaints from parents like me were met with eye-rolling from “reformers” who claim all this testing is necessary for school “accountability.” In fact, I’ve learned that if you even question how we are testing children in Tennessee, some “reformers” counter with the silly argument that you must be opposed to all tests or you oppose teacher “accountability” (as if our teachers will get away with murder if we don’t impose weeks on end of standardized tests in every school).
(I should clarify here that by standardized testing, I mean tests generated by testing companies which are usually, if not always, for profit and which are being paid millions by the Tennessee Department of Education to create our tests. I do not mean the teacher-generated tests used in addition to the standardized tests the state requires all children to take.)
So to clarify the problem, let’s consider some facts:
1. The average school in Nashville will lose 6-8 weeks of valuable instructional time to standardized testing this year.
2. My 9-year-old third grader will spend more time taking standardized tests this year than I spent taking the LSAT to get into law school.
3. This year, children in grades 3-5 will be expected to sit still for two and a half hours on one day alone to fill in bubble tests.
4. This year, third graders will be expected to type multi-paragraph responses to essay questions and perform sophisticated manipulations on the computer screen in order to even complete the tests.
I have to pause here to ask: Do the people who developed these policies have children —  or have they even spent any time around real children? I don’t know about you, but my third grader does not yet have proficient typing skills, and he’s among the lucky MNPS students who use a computer at home. Over half of MNPS [Metropolitan Board of Public Schools] students do not have home computers, and because of ongoing funding deficits, public schools do not have all of the technology they need to allow every child time to practice as necessary.
Furthermore, as for all the so-called “accountability” generated by standardized testing, here are a few more facts:
1. The results of this year’s standardized tests will not be available until NEXT YEAR, when the students who took the tests have moved along to the next teacher and grade level- and sometimes the next school.
2. Test questions and responses are not available for review by teachers, parents, or students. In other words, the standardized tests upon which we are basing EVERYTHING are like a black box. How do we know the tests are even correct or appropriate when only the testing company has access to the information contained in them? (Luckily, a new bill is pending that might change this.)
3. About 70% of Tennessee teachers will be evaluated using test scores of children they have NEVER taught. (Stop and read that one again. Yes, it’s true.)
4. There’s plenty of research questioning the validity of using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Research demonstrates that test scores are primarily influenced by out-of-school factors; only 7-13% of variance in test scores is due to teachers. (Haertel, 2013)
Why do I know all of this is wrong? Is it because I am a lawyer? Is it because I am a sitting board member who has spent years now considering education policy? Is it because I’m a genius?
No, it’s because I’m a mom. Also, I would like to think I have some common sense.
Because I have children of my own, I understand what is developmentally appropriate for them, and I know what they can and cannot do. Forcing a young child to spend hours on end sitting perfectly still for bubble testing is not healthy or age appropriate. Expecting elementary aged children to type out essay responses like a high schooler makes no sense. We will not measure children’s actual knowledge this way (although we might measure their typing skills), and we will simply frustrate them, which usually causes children to shut down, not strive harder.
What makes sense to me is one formative test (to measure where children are at the beginning of the year) and one summative test (at the end of the year to measure what they have learned). When I was a child, we had only one standardized test per year. But I am not an educator, and I will leave decisions about what is best for schools to the real experts.
One thing I know for sure: For things to change, parents must speak up. Make your voice heard.