Test Refusal Justified

Not only is refusal —or “opting out”— of standardized testing justified, it is necessary. Here’s why: the “reform” process of No Child Left Behind failed and the system failed to respond, or even acknowledge, the crux of the problem despite the repeated attempts of many to help make the law better.

Many parents in low-income communities endured the senseless, useless, time-consuming, curriculum-narrowing, opportunity-limiting implementation of the No Child Left Behind standardized testing regime. Quietly? No, not all of them. Many wrote letters to representatives, editorials to newspapers, dozens upon dozens of researched papers, and even books!

We dissenters attended meetings; we petitioned, protested, and marched. We should have seen things change for the better during the last decade but instead; the next generation of parents got “higher standards” and “next generation assessments.”

This was from Idaho in 1999 when "achievement standards" were introduced as "exit standards."

This was from Idaho in 1999 when “achievement standards” were introduced as “exit standards.”

The “silver bullet” of standards and testing tied to “accountability” was sold to the public as the path to school improvement. No proof then; no proof now.

Familiar words? Same promise?

Familiar words? Same promise? Different year – 2011.

We should be outraged.

Not paying attention or has the information been very tightly controlled?

Not paying attention, or, has the information been very tightly controlled?

Last straw? Prompted by tactics and threats aimed at parents that have refused to allow their children to take the “next generation” Common Core aligned tests, I reached a tipping point and directed my words of condemnation at a school district administrator —who had written a disturbing letter to parents and guardians. My letter in response included questions that should have been allowed to be asked, and been answered, in an “open, large scale forum” on education reform BEFORE it happened to us.…Let me step off my soapbox …. and cut to the chase for you readers. …

The concern for compliance with rules and laws mandating testing participation was clearly stated in the districts’ letter, “…the district must ensure compliance with State and Federal laws.”

QUESTION: how do these laws and codes supersede the civil rights of parents as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States?

Also in the letter was an expression of consideration, “I fully understand every parent’s desire to make educational decisions they think are best for their child…” But… the tone of the letter was meant to discourage parents from doing what they felt was best. How can there be “full understanding”?

FURTHER QUESTIONS: How do parents decide what is right without a full disclosure of information?

With the “next generation assessments” being computerized, being “adaptive” in nature, and teachers not being allowed to view the tests unless specifically certified by the company or state and then not being allowed to discuss the test, what are parents or guardians consenting to when they allow a child to be tested through the new testing consortium? ( COPPA-Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule  requires schools obtain verifiable parental consent for their children’s personal information to be entered during the testing process.)

Are our data exchange projects with other states still ongoing?

With student data being linked with information from agencies outside the State Department of Education, will parents or guardians be given the chance to give consent to each transfer of their student’s data?

In informed decision making on this matter, all facts are required to decide if the decision to refuse this testing will severely impact the quality of education in the district, as stated in the letter. Does the risk outweigh the impact of lost instructional time, lost instructional dollars, and loss of control of curriculum content as well as private student information?

There is a reason the dissenters to high-stakes testing have not been sufficiently heard.

Here’s an example:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations are major sponsors and this piece was essential for the Common Core State Standards Initiative package deal.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations are major sponsors and this piece was essential for the Common Core State Standards Initiative package deal.

With the push for development of longitudinal data systems during the pit of the Great Recession, many issues surrounding the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its “next generation” tests were not fully vetted in the arena of public opinion partially because it became a “best practice” to “not engage in large scale, open forums.”Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 2.04.25 PMThe not-to-be open debate on education reform could have benefited the public’s understanding of No Child Left Behind, the Common Core State Standards Initiative and its “next generation” assessments.

Now, the public should consider why test refusal is necessary:

1) No Child Left Behind is the federal law upon which the nation was convinced they must comply with high-stakes standardized testing. Thirteen years later, that nonsensical overstep by the federal government has yet to be challenged in our superior courts. Disregarding research about appropriate uses of standardized tests and with no regard for objections raised by the people affected by the law, the law remains in place and the reauthorization process is far from transparent. Consent by the People has not been deemed to be of importance therefore leaving civil disobedience as the next step in a parent’s duty to defend what they think is best for their children.

2) The Common Core State Standards Initiative was never about “just” the standards. There was always the intent to develop the “next generation assessments” to correspond with the Common Core Standards. Our American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA/TARP) dollars served as the seed money for the two consortiums to develop these tests. What has always been missing from any public discussion was the intent of the two private, non-profit groups that hold the copyright for the standards — the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA). The intention was/is to “direct the collection of student data to a single reporting office within the U.S. Department of Education through the reauthorization of ESEA” (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) otherwise know as No Child Left Behind. This is item #10, on page 9, of the CCSSO/NGA “new deal” for ESEA reauthorization.

3) What should be respected and understood about a parents’ refusal to comply with the rules, regulations, and laws set down for them by their elected representatives, who have not represented their views, is that they feel a strong moral responsibility to do what is right for their children. Many parents feel forced or coerced participation in testing is wrong, and is potentially, and in reality, driving a wedge between them and their child, their teachers, their school administrators, their neighbors, communities, and the larger society who can’t comprehend or understand their stance. What we should understand as citizens is that it is morally reprehensible to turn a blind eye to rules, policies, and laws judged to be wrong for children by their own parents.

4) As ordinary law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, we pay our taxes because we know it is the cost of maintaining a civil society including “free” public schools. In a representative form of government founded on the Consent of the People, our choices in this manner should include having “large-scale, open forums” where a meaningful exchange of ideas could occur, or, civil disobedience as a second choice when the first choice has been denied us.

With No Child Left Behind testing mandates, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and their “next generation” tests and all that go with them, the choice was made for us.

Our “consent” in the decision-making process was denied.

Civil disobedience through test refusal is a parental right in need of supporting.

Politicians put parents and children in the middle of the mess they created through a corrupted political process. There was always a better way.

Accountability & ESEA Reauthorization

“Accountability is not a bad thing, but it can be done badly. And that’s where we find ourselves now…No single idea, policy or solution can begin to address all the challenges in 50 states, 15,000 districts and 90,000 public schools…we need accountability for the entire system.” — Dennis Van Roekel, President of NEA, 6/10/14

Accountability in ESEA reauthorization needs to take into account all the major issues involved in student performance.

Accountability in ESEA reauthorization needs to take into account all the major issues involved in student performance.

When you look at the visual provided here, it’s easy to see that our myopic focus on student outcomes as the basis of accountability for No Child Left Behind set us on a tragic course destined to sink the U.S. education system.

To attempt an explanation of how accountability for the entire system is possible, I elected to begin with a statement from this, October 28, 2014, letter from key civil rights organizations.

To: President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Congressional and State Educational Leaders:

Re: Improving Public Education Accountability Systems and Addressing Educational Equity.

“…many struggling school systems have made little progress under rules that emphasize testing without investing.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.48.00 PMThe focus on “testing without investing” can very simply be brought to a halt. If the government won’t stop this, parents will have to take the law into their own hands as they are doing with the United Opt Out Movement.

If those continuing to insist on forced yearly testing are doing so because they do not trust state and local officials to work towards equal opportunity, that is understandable. But IF Congress cannot “fix” their mistakes now, after being aware of them for a decade, a two-year federal moratorium on all federally mandated testing except NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) is reasonable given what we know.

We know we created a lost generation in education and in our economy. We tested without investing in real school improvements. We ignored much while focusing only on the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s the problem:

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards, 1995

The concept of “opportunity to learn assessments” isn’t something that the public hears much about but as Schwartz explained, they are “used to indicate overall educational quality, and, more specifically, the availability and use of education resources.

Hopefully that helps people better understand the concerns of the civil rights groups and their requests to Congress and the Obama administration. The eight points below are theirs; the elaboration on them is mine. Their emphasis was on providing “productive learning conditions for all students in each school” using measures of educational inputs and outcomes based on eight requirements for effective accountability:

  1. Appropriate and Equitable Resources to ensure opportunities to learn,
  2. Multiple Measures of both inputs and outcomes,
  3. Shared Responsibility – from the community to the classroom to all levels of the system – to fulfill their obligation to support learning for all students,
  4. Professional Competence requiring proper preparation, continuing education,and professional learning opportunities for all,
  5. Informative Assessments that are indicators of continuous improvement of both the students’ progress and the systems’ responsiveness to identified problems,
  6. Transparency requiring that the indicators of improvement be specific, targeted, meaningful, and easily accessible and readable,
  7. Meaningful and Responsive Parental and Family Engagement must be made a priority in funding and practice,
  8. Capacity Building should be the focus of all interventions whether it is for the student, school, or system because it is only by strengthening and increasing an individuals’ or institutions’ capability to perform that we ensure a strong foundation for progress.

HOW?

The structure for a responsive and responsible accountability mechanism was recommended in 1991 by the Special Study Panel on Education Indicators and presented to the Acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, Emerson J. Elliott, then Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, and Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement Diane Ravitch.

The panels’ goal was to “develop a comprehensive education indicator information system capable of monitoring the health of the enterprise, identifying problems, and illuminating the road ahead” which meant they were looking at leading indicators as well as an evaluation of the systems’ current status.

The panel began by clarifying that “unlike most other statistics, an indicator is policy-relevant and problem-oriented…but indicators cannot, by themselves, identify causes or solutions.”

Understanding that “information requirements of the federal government have little in common with those of the school superintendent or principal,” the panel anticipated the need for indicator systems corresponding to federal, state, and local needs.

Their first step was to define “the conceptual framework” and “fundamental principles” by which to create and guide an education indicator information system to meet the demands of the public and policymakers.

These fundamental convictions were outlined and explained:

  • Indicators should address enduring issues. We should assess what we think is important, not settle for what we can measure.
  • The public’s understanding of education can be improved by high-quality, reliable indicators.
  • An effective indicator system must monitor education outcomes and processes wherever they occur.
  • An indicator system built solely around achievement tests will mislead the American people.
  • An indicator system must respect the complexity of the educational process and the internal operations of schools and colleges.
  • Higher education and the nation’s schools can no longer be permitted to go their separate ways.

The panel set down a framework around six issues and the main factors contributing to success in those areas. They expressed the concept as “clusters of indicators” designed to give us the best understanding of these complex issues.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 6.50.01 PMIn essence, this panel was encouraging us to develop a “mixed model of indicators — national indicators, state and local indicators, and a subset of indicators held in common.”

But — always a “but” — in 1991, the public and this panel still held the belief, and clearly pushed it forward, that international comparison data was “the ultimate benchmarks of educational performance.” It wouldn’t be until 1993 that a brief glimpse at the Sandia National Laboratories report on education put the interpretation of international test scores, and standardized test scores in general, in perspective. “The major differences in education systems and cultures across countries diminish the value of these single-point comparisons.”

Sandia researchers critically evaluated “popular, not necessarily appropriate” measures of performance and in the end stated that the available data was collected for such “specific purposes” that it was “often used in unintended and sometimes inappropriate applications.” They warned, “this practice may result in poorly focused actions, with disappointing outcomes.” On that point, both of these groups of researchers were in agreement.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.38.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.39.03 PM

 

To avoid too narrow a focus yet not be overwhelmed by statistics or the collection of them, the 1991 Panel on Education Indicators went for a “comprehensive” issue-focused approach.

 

 

 

For each of the six issue areas, they further detailed the system with subsets.

 

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They did the same with issues of “leading indicators” particularly changes in society affecting a child’s readiness for school…

 

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…and the supports necessary for student success.

 

 

 

The panel stressed that “the most powerful system of indicators will start from the perspective of what consumers and the public expect and need from education” understanding that “the people of the United States also clearly expect the nation’s schools and colleges to advance certain national values above and beyond the benefits education provides to individual students.”

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To accommodate the public, these two issues were included: education and economic productivity, and…

 

 

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… equity in American education.

 

 

Is this doable? Could a “mixed model of indicators” be used to assess all the elements laid out in the civil rights letter? For our large and diverse country, would this system better fit our needs than the test-based accountability of No Child Left Behind?

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was NOT an accountability law until the No Child Left Behind version of it. ESEA was one of a group of anti-poverty laws.

Do we want to return ESEA to its original goals? Should accountability be set nationally in a manner such as outlined here, but, maybe under its own law? Now would be the time to decide.

What we know with certainty is that current federal education law, as it stands, has neither served us well nor protected children from the harmful effects of politics-gone-wrong.

Our lawmakers have proven themselves incapable of responsible decision-making in the arena of education policy. It is time for the People to make demands.

Choices to consider: 1) Push Congress to make the law right, 2) call for a moratorium on testing if they can’t produce a reauthorization we can live with and prosper by, 3) boycott testing now. Unfulfilled promises of action are no longer good enough.

PARENTS: submit your tests refusal letters now. The parents that came before you in the standards, testing, accountability movement waited for lawmakers to act. They didn’t; you must.

CITIZENS: what happened to leaving a place better than you found it? The public education system is systematically being dismantled. Get off the sidelines!

To read more about accountability at the different levels, see Accountability Where It Matters Most, Accountability for School Quality, and Accountability for Administration.

We aren’t short on ideas; we are stymied by the corrupted politics of education.

Update 5/6/2015 PLEASE view the accountability summary chart now under the Federal Education Law drop down menu. Thank you for considering.

What Are We Missing?

Leaders, Civil Rights Leaders, People, what are we missing? And how is it we don’t seem to understand that “narrowing the curriculum” translates to lost opportunities to learn — particularly in impoverished communities? Those were the ones previously targeted by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB). Those schools were the reason for the existence of federal education law.

equal-right-quotes-5

Here are some facts that seem to be missing in the discussion of yearly standardized testing as it applies to reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (ESEA):

The original ESEA set this goal.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals desired in federal education law as stated by President Kennedy.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals first stated by President Kennedy.

The only “accountability” and testing associated with this law was this:

"Appropriate" was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

“Appropriate” was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn and staying focused on the “educationally-deprived” children.

Measurements of progress were used to assess effectiveness of federal dollars in meeting children’s learning needs. As one citizen recently expressed to me, these were state and locally created “measures.” …But back to the past,… in 1966, the first review of ESEA was released.

This council was required by the 1965 ESEA to advise the president and congress.

Yearly, the council was required to advise the president and congress. This council  focused strictly on the children the law intended to help and advised we do the same.

This assessment of the problem led their thoughts on standardized testing.

This assessment of the problem by this council highlighted their thoughts on standardized testing.

This council understood that these children were coming to school already “disadvantaged” when it came to standardized test scores. Out-of-school factors played a role.

In other words, commercially-designed standardized "achievement" tests point at opportunity to learn gaps.

In other words, commercially designed standardized “achievement” tests point at opportunity-to-learn gaps.

A point made in The Coleman Report that is really what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre.

Important to think about: the report was really titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.”

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Variation within a school is greater than between schools. We have to think about children from low-income families as children with fewer opportunities – unless their community provides them more.

Also in 1966, the Coleman Report said that family background and socioeconomic factors play a role in “achievement” – but it was interpreted to mean that “school resources” don’t matter.

However…….a point made in The Coleman Report that really is what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre ones is the concentration of poverty….if not properly addressed.

Fortunately, the 1965 ESEA was designed taking into consideration both in-school and out-of-school factors and later research by James S. Coleman would prove that an out-of-school safety net of opportunities (social capital) was a factor behind the success of the private Catholic schools that he studied. But as the story of testing goes….

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Analysis and intervention must be focused on student learning – in the school where variability between students is largest.

Convinced that all students can learn, Ronald Edmonds looked at schools that began seeing student success regardless of their high-poverty rates. He not only analyzed the common factors in these “effective” schools, he looked at what they did to improve.

Edmonds did not shy away from standards and testing but his bigger focus was on instruction and learning….in the school.

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Good-quality teacher-created tests focused on learning objectives in line with clear, locally acceptable standards should be considered as the alternative to yearly commercially-created standardized tests. Then, what gets taught gets tested.

So in light of the fact that the role of the federal government is to ensure our civil (citizens) right to equal access, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is one appropriate tool for assessing national or state achievement/opportunity gaps. We should not change something that has worked well as one indicator of our nations slow but steady progress.

Today, we must consider looking at the real core of the problem that national civil rights groups are having with the idea of giving up yearly standardized testing. We need to consider: when the biggest variable is within a school, when success is really defined by individual student success, student success can only be measured at the school level. The “accountability” measure must be determined by parents, teachers, and communities. Monitored by NAEP to assess inequality, yes. But any further national testing for this reason is not justified and is an overstep.

In federal program evaluations to satisfy “accountability” for dollars, the same data (measures, assessments, indicators) that are used to identify a problem should be used to determine whether the problem has been reduced or eliminated.

And one last lesson from the past that we may have missed, from No Child Left Behind, was that yearly standardized testing narrowed the curriculum to what was tested – it did harm – and instructional time was lost because of test preparation. Limiting learning opportunities in schools is most devastating for children whose parents can’t make up for those lost opportunities. I know this because I saw it with my own eyes.

I hope in the weeks to come that a set of meaningful indicators of educational quality and opportunity come out of the legislative debate on ESEA reauthorization. Yearly standardized achievement tests for all students should not be among them. 

Education Counts. Let's measure what matters.

Education Counts. Let’s measure what matters.

#TruthBeTold The civil rights movement marched on a different path to obtain equality in educational opportunity.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Congressional representatives, particularly those charged with re-writing NCLB, do you understand?

We are at a crossroads where the standards movement that has dominated education policy since the 80’s intersects with the almost forgotten educational history of the 60’s and 70’s that saw the natural progress of effective schools take root because the influential in education policy THEN understood poverty and saw a way that education law could remedy a longstanding injustice – unequal access to quality education.

It is a problem we can solve.

Again.

Again.

Principles as a Foundation

What principlesfundamental truths upon which we act— do we stand upon when judging education laws and practices?

In the 1960’s, the country saw the value in improving the quality of education and believed all children in America deserved access to educational opportunities, equally.

Many understood that civil rights mean citizen’s rights – even our youngest citizens were included in the consideration of equal rights under the law. Thus, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encouraged desegregation of schools as a means of equalizing opportunity.

Segregated schools were discouraged - equality was encouraged.

Segregated schools were discouraged – equality was encouraged.

Back then, we believed we were capable of delivery on the ideal of equal opportunity, at least to children. And the lawmakers of that time saw a different way, other than forced busing, to do it.

Education law stood on this fundamental truth; it is deemed imperative to put in place within the system the dissemination of “promising educational practices” to better ensure their use.

So the “educational brain trust” in Washington D.C. at that time, including longtime Republican and founder of Common Cause, John W. Gardner – along with other lesser-known people from both political parties – wrote the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Title I, the touchstone of ESEA, is a particularly complex idea. The federal funding was for assistance of “children of low-income families.” But the architects of the law understood that it was more than just the low-income children affected by low-income community schools because schools in poverty-ridden areas are “inherently unequal” when compared to schools in more affluent areas —the children in them are disadvantaged. But they also understood that the focus must always stay on meeting the needs of the identified children.

When you add in the other educational supports of ESEA—material resources, additional applicable services, proven practices, teacher and counselor development, and training to develop responsive state leadership—you do improve the quality of education for all but it begins with addressing a known disadvantage, poverty.

But with each reauthorization of ESEA, the law was modified further and further from its original focus – disadvantaged children living in poorer communities.

Today, I’m not sure that we stand on the ideal of equal opportunity at all. I’m not sure we understand what equal educational opportunity means. I don’t think the country has any vision for what that concept might look like, or, mean for them, or, its importance for the United States.

Part 8 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.