When my oldest daughter was in the third grade, she came home one day feeling nauseous, claiming that her head hurt. She had no other symptoms, but she wouldn’t eat. When I suggested that she stay home the next day and rest, she shook her head and said, “I can’t, I can’t!” in a panicked voice.
“Why can’t you?” I asked, dismayed. “Because we’re practicing for the Iowa test,” she explained, “and if I don’t pass I won’t go to fourth grade.”
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“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” I responded, brilliantly. But it was. I had never heard of such a thing. Surely, surely something had been lost in translation — there was no way a standardized test would hold back third-graders!
But it can, and it does. And my daughter isn’t the only kid to buckle under the pressure. Adrian H. Wood, a writer and former schoolteacher, recently wrote a Facebook post about her son’s similar experience with End of Grade tests that went viral:
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Over at Scary Mommy, Sarah Hosseini built on Wood’s Facebook post with some bleak statistics about just how many tests our kids take these days. She cited a 2015 report released by the Council of Great City Schools that found students take an average of 112 tests between pre-K and high school. But wait! That doesn’t include optional tests, diagnostic tests, school-developed tests, or teacher-developed tests.
Did you catch those last two? Those 112 tests do not include the tests that kids take all year long, the ones that their teachers make study sheets for, the ones they take at the end of each unit and before holidays. Those 112 tests are all state-mandated, standardized tests.
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Each year, the average student takes about eight standardized tests. That’s a lot of mind-numbing bubble-filling … but surely these tests serve a purpose, right? I mean, they measure something, right?
Don’t be too sure about that.
Poet Sara Holbrook recently discovered that she couldn’t answer standardized test questions about her own poems.
When a teacher attempting to prep his students emailed her to ask which of the options was correct, she realized that none of them was. It was a question about formatting, specifically the purpose of a stanza break, only the test makers had neglected to include the stanza break in the test prep materials.
Worse, she only broke the poem up that way because she paused there when she read it out loud; none of the options given to students included that. Horrified, Holbrook wrote an extensive op-ed in The Huffington Post about the racket that is standardized testing:
“These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids’ futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.
Then I went online and searched Holbrook/MIDNIGHT/Texas and the results were terrifying. Dozens of districts, all dissecting this poem based on poorly formatted test prep materials.”
Holbrook reminds us that test-makers are for-profit organizations, and states pay big bucks to buy and administer these tests to students. How big? Well, in 2013 Texas paid Pearson $500 million to administer standardized tests — tests that were routinely scored by people hired from Craigslist ads, who received scant training and were paid between 30 and 70 cents per paper.
If you are scraping your jaw off the floor in disbelief, you’re not alone. This means that a test scorer would have to grade 30 papers an hour to get anywhere close to minimum wage. If that’s the standard for the people scoring the tests your kids sweat blood over, what do you think the standard is for the people making up the questions?
This is crazy. Even crazier is the fact that these standardized tests only exist to make money for testing companies while.
So what can we do about it? Simple — we can let our kids opt out of testing. That’s what 155,000 New Yorkers did last year, sending a clear message to the department of education. Opting out is as simple as sending the principal a letter in advance. Some states and districts have forms for this, but you can also say something as simple as: “We do not want our child to take part in this standardized test this year. Please arrange for him or her to have a meaningful educational experience during the testing.” (For more resources on how and why to opt out, visit FairTest.org.)
It’s worth noting that although some states have specific laws allowing parents to opt out, no states prohibit it. You absolutely have the right to opt out of standardized testing. We don’t have to let the test makers co-opt our kids’ education in the name of the almighty dollar — and we shouldn’t.