As a professional educator, I have administered state exams to my high school sophomores for almost two decades. Ignorantly, I used to love having these exams to hold the students accountable. But long gone are the days when the exam actually focused on competency and validity. In the 90’s, Florida’s exam was called the High School Competency Test (HSCT) and that’s exactly what it was. The HSCT was the minimum requirements all students should have before they exit high school and enter college or the work force. It was one formative assessment that I believed in.
Now that I’m a mother of three, I see the repercussions of these high stakes exams in a whole new light. Without getting too technical, here are the 9 reasons why my girls will refuse to take the test. Click here to review our refusal letter. For the real research behind our decision, follow the blue links provided. What parents most need to know is you have the right to refuse the test. You have options!
1. The test is not a valid assessment tool.
You know what is a valid assessment tool. Teacher Generated Exams. Portfolio Assessments. End of Chapter Tests. To name a few. To be certain my girls have the skills needed to do well on any state exam, I give that power to their teachers. Fortunately, my daughters are proficient readers and always score well when ‘practicing’ for and/or taking any state exam. That is all I need. They will participate in standardized exams one time in elementary, one time in middle, and one time in high school. It is their teachers’ opinions I value most. I trust they can score well on any exam, but read on to see why they won’t be taking FSA exams.
As a high school, virtual English teacher all I need to evaluate and diagnose a student to know where to begin working with them is a correctly designed pre-test and one paragraph of a student’s writing. As such, there is no instructional value in a standardized test to me. It tells me information I already know. Standardized tests simply segregate and track learners. Why so much emphasis is placed on them is simply a fiscal matter that has nothing to do with educating a human being. Want more info?
2. The exam is not graded by educators.
You need some extra cash? NOW HIRING: Apply to grade these exams and Pearson, Inc. will pay you $11/hr to grade short and long essays. No educational background needed. (I don’t know about you, but I trust my children’s teachers far more than any money seeking person).
3. A passing score is arbitrary.
Since we keep changing the exam, every year is a new baseline. How do we measure fear in teachers and administrators? We keep changing the test and we hold educators accountable for issues that are out their control. It’s like blaming a dentist for cavity ridden teeth, or cops for increased homicides.
4. Our children cannot defend themselves, so we must defend them.
How do I measure academic progress in my children? Call me CRA-ZY, but I measure it in their like or dislike of school. Since 3rd grade, when the testing begins, I noticed a change in my children. They completely distrust and dislike school. Long gone is a thrill for understanding, the sheer joy and natural love of learning. When my 13 and 9 year old daughters hate going to school, I call that failure.
5. The Readability, or the expected reading level, is about two years beyond the grade being tested.
I’m a literacy expert. I can teach anyone, at any age HOW to read. There’s a fundamental understanding in literacy education called the zone of proximal development (ZPD). A learner’s ZPD allows teachers to direct them to appropriate independent reading materials. Independent reading is the place where all the magic happens for readers. But, when we choose material that is too hard, we defeat the purpose of increasing reading achievement. The exams that have been viewed are 1-3 grade levels above grade level being tested. Again, the test is not measuring ability or achievement when it is too hard.
6. The tests drive instruction.
I 100% believe in authentic assessments where students are given time to review and refresh what they’ve learned. But what actually happens in a typical 3rd-12th grade classroom doesn’t allow students to master any skills other than what is needed for an exam.
7. The tests widen the gap for disadvantaged students.
This is the saddest of all my points. There is ZERO research based evidence that these exams lessen the plight of disadvantaged children. ZERO! In fact, research is showing it has quite the opposite effect.
8. The exams are emotionally disengaging children.
I’m about to get all high on my own Kool-aid here. When schools focus on high stakes exams, they do not reflect the world as it is today. How do people learn and thrive? They learn and thrive when they are able to learn at their own pace, or tempo. Emotions are attached to ones’ success. The current educational model in the US is a one size fits all, passive model. Mastery learning is unachievable when the teacher is expected to move on before mastery happens. Mastery of any skill requires flexibility, practice, time on task. Period. The end.
9. Now is the time.
Shortly after colonization, Harvard and Yale were created. The Industrial Revolution created MIT, Stanford and state schools. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we are in the INFORMATION AGE, yet we are not using the information we have to make appropriate changes in our educational systems. Our current model for educating children hasn’t changed much since the early 1900’s. That is alarming. Ay? Still, excellence is possible for all! How do we get there?
We strive to measure growth based on creativity, entrepreneurial skills, optimism and capitalism. We strive to create educational environments that are less institutional and more student centered where active participation and discussion lead instruction. This is what fertilizes young minds. It’s what fertilizes all minds.
High stakes exams squander and deny potential rather than realize and enhance it.
I have had enough. Have you? Here’s the letter we sent to refuse to participate in the FSA and Florida state exams. Feel free to use it!