(AP Photo)

Last year, the Obama administration conceded that U.S. public school students were taking too many standardized tests, this after after a revolt among students, parents and teachers, and after a two-year study found that there was no evidence that adding testing time improves student achievement. But if you thought that the administration’s admission meant that the problem was on its way to being resolved, guess again.

Today the rise of online or computer-based testing threatens  to reverse whatever progress has been made in reducing the number of tests in the last year. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a non-profit organization that works to end the abuse and misuse of standardized tests, has put out a new fact sheet about this program, which says in part:

Education policymakers and technology providers have joined forces to accelerate a longtime push for “test data-driven” education interventions. Both sectors look to computer-based curricula and data collected with online tests to control classrooms and define educational outcomes.

Though couched in humanistic language about “personalization,” such a transformation is leading to even more frequent standardized testing. This narrows and dumbs down instruction to what low-level tests can measure, depresses student engagement, and produces inaccurate indicators of learning.

Here’s a piece on this trend, by Lisa Guisbond, a testing reform analyst at FairTest.

By Lisa Guisbond

Long Island parent Jeanette Deutermann is only half-joking when she says she should give a Christmas gift to her son’s school computer this year instead of the teacher. She sees the way computer-based curriculum-plus-testing packages have taken control of her son’s classroom, and she doesn’t like it.

Deutermann has been a leader in New York State’s unprecedented opt-out movement. Now she is calling out the latest damaging twist in education reformers’ efforts to fatten the pig by weighing it even more often.

Deutermann’s fifth-grade son and his classmates are among those on the edge of this craze, now that their school has adopted a product called i-Ready. She’s alarmed that her son gets daily computer-based math and reading lessons triggered by the results of a computer-based test. He also has thrice yearly (or more) i-Ready exams and even i-Ready-based homework.

She laments a shift away from students learning how to communicate and collaborate with one another on group projects to more and more time in solitary communion with a computer screen.

Deutermann hears that some parents are doing the  i-Ready homework themselves. Back in the day, most teachers were hip to parents who did their children’s homework, but can computers suss this out? (And if not, will students be assigned a level of difficulty based on how their college-educated parents perform?)

FairTest has investigated how these computer-based curriculum-plus-testing packages threaten teaching and learning in new ways. Though couched in humanistic language about “personalized learning,” this trend is resulting in even more standardized testing. FairTest’s new fact sheet outlines the dangers and recommends resistance actions that parents, teachers and students can take. (You can find it here.)

We already know that high-stakes exams narrow and dumb down instruction, depress student engagement, and produce inaccurate indicators of learning. Now we must be vigilant and prepared to push back against these new threats:

  • The push for frequent online or computer-based testing threatens to reverse recent progress in reducing testing and lower the stakes attached.
  • Instead of schools with trained educators who use their professional expertise to personalize learning for students, these programs perpetuate standardized, test-driven teaching and learning, now automated for “efficiency.”
  • Frequent online student assessments require teachers to review copious amounts of data instead of teaching, observing and relating to students.
  • In truly student-centered learning, children guided by teachers can choose among topics, materials and books based on their interests and passions. But the vision promoted by many education technology vendors and proponents is of students learning material selected by online or computer-based adaptive assessments.
  • Companies and government agencies are amassing unprecedented amounts of student data through online learning and testing platforms. There is widespread concern about accessibility of this data to third parties and violations of privacy through data. Parent groups and others advocate legislation to provide transparency and protect data from misuse. In the meantime, security breaches or data sharing are serious risks.
  • Frequent online testing creates obstacles to opting out as a way to call attention to and protest testing overkill. A robust national opt-out movement created enormous pressure for change. But a shift to online exams creates new hurdles for parents who want to opt their children out.
  • After several decades, researchers have seen little positive impact from educational technology. Meanwhile, researchers warn of a range of negative consequences from overexposure to technology and screen time. These include damage to intellectual, physical and emotional development, threats to privacy, and, ironically, increased standardization.

What Can Parents, Students and Educators Do?

  • To fight the onslaught of packaged curriculum-plus-tests as well as personal data collection, parents and educators must learn more about the new ways technology is being used in the classroom.
  • Parents can collectively demand transparency from schools, districts and states, either directly from teachers and administrators or through policy-making bodies such as school boards and education departments.
  • Parents can request — or demand — that districts not purchase or require these packages and that their child not exceed a maximum amount of screen time per day or week.
  • Parents, educators, students and their allies can organize for legislation that bars use of such packages, protects student data, limits screen time, and prohibits the adoption of expensive, unproven education technology.
  • Parents can all demand that their children be allowed to opt out of interim or computerized, embedded tests.

Parents Across America’s report on the dangers of EdTech suggests six questions parents can ask, including: which devices and programs are being used, how much time children spend on electronic devices, and what kind of data is being collected. Parents should also ask whether assessments are mostly multiple choice, how often they are administered, if some students (e.g., students with disabilities or English learners) are tested more frequently, and who controls the data and how it is being used.

Armed with detailed information, parents can fight back against technology misuse and overuse.