Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New York Educator & Parent Just Says No to Standardized Tests

By Chris Cerrone | Cross posted at Buffalo News

Chris Cerrone is a parent and social studies teacher who opposes high-stakes testing.

My family has recently taken an important step regarding the education of our children: our third-grader will not be participating in the New York State Assessments in ELA or math this spring. This decision was reached with much thought and research, along with our own experience as educators playing a major role.
Last school year, my son brought home a benchmark test from his kindergarten class. This packet was clearly a mass-produced exam tailored to prepare for standardized tests. This school year, I have seen a parade of these same practice tests in both of my children’s take-home folders.

I do not blame their teachers one iota; these fine, caring educators are just following expectations set by school administration. My children have had excellent teachers, but the current reform movement has forced their hands and made these resourceful teachers into test preparation instructors. I know they, like many of my own colleagues, would like to have more lessons that involve creativity and critical thinking, but their hands are tied by the system.
We are taking this necessary opt-out step because we know that standardized testing is harming public education. Some people may say that these exams are “just a test,” but as an educator I can say that administrators over the last several years have emphasized raising ELA and math test results as the paramount objective for our schools. The high-stakes exam has become the primary focus of public education. When I hear elementary teachers in my children’s school state, “when we have time, we will squeeze in social studies and science,” I cringe.
High-stakes testing proponents claim these exams are vital tools for assessing our children and their teachers. I do not need a test to determine if my children are progressing with their education. By simply listening to them read regularly and checking their work, I can establish their strengths and weaknesses. My children’s teachers can conclude if they need extra reading or math assistance within a few weeks from the start of the school year. We do not need the expensive testing systems to make that determination.
Like any other parent, I want the best teachers for my children. I do not need a test score to determine the quality of my children’s teachers or school. I know the teachers my kids have had at their public school are highly effective. I look for an educator who is caring, creative, organized and communicates well with parents.
Some of the practice exams my children have taken prove that using state tests to determine if our teachers are doing a good job is unreliable. Many times they have received a three or even the maximum score of a four, but on occasion they dropped to a two. If my kids happen to have a bad day of testing during a small snapshot of time, does that prove that they need academic assistance and that the teachers are ineffective?
We need to return to a system where parents and teachers are involved in educational decisions and remove the corporate reformers and politicians from our schools. My children’s district is facing drastic budget cuts to vital programs in the arts, and class sizes will soar because we are spending scarce financial resources on standardized testing and expensive data systems.
I will not expose my children to the pressure to perform on a meaningless exam that is not required for promotion or graduation. My children are human beings and not a piece of data or number from one to four.
Connect with other New York parents and educators who are opting out of testing at https://www.facebook.com/groups/OptOutNewYork  You can replace "NewYork" with the name of any state for the group where you live.


  1. Good for you! There are so many negative consequences for kids and teachers because of standardized tests. (http://imaginationsoup.net/2012/04/the-truth-about-standardized-testing/)

  2. You raise excellent points about standardized testing. Another aspect to consider is what standardized testing truly benefits and that would be the publishers of these expensive tests. Back in 2001 the testing industry was estimate at $400 million. I'm sure it's gone up a bit since then, thanks to NCLB, Judging a teacher's performance based on one set of tests, given at one time during the year, is like judging a doctor's performance on one operation. Unrealistic.

  3. Amen. I think you did the right thing. I can only hope that I should have such guts when the time comes. Unfortunately though, until parents by the droves make similar decisions it won't actually change what happens in the classroom. Our kids will still have to sit through the information dump whether they are taking the test or not. How about a charter school for parents who choose to opt-out???

  4. Thank you Chris Cerrone! I am a middle school teacher and I believe teachers, parents and students need to boycott these tests! I am going to seriously consider if I allow my own children to take the test next year. It is crazy the amount of time and stress we are putting on young children for no reason. I can tell you about everyone of my 100 students. The ones who are reading and writing above grade level, at grade level or below grade level. I know what all those students need to improve with reading and writing. I have had enough of NYS Education Department making decisions that are not in the best interests of the children we teach!

  5. Not to mention that too much testing, or too much of anything, will sort of dilute the importance of the test, make it trivial, which it seems like it's become anyway, mission accomplished.

    The problem is who decides what's important to test? How would that work for philosophy, "only true knowledge is knowing that I know nothing". Or anything else creative, inherently difficult to test as it's trying to be something new, of which tests of the past, defined, are never able to measure up to.

    Congrats on the move, will probably give the child a surge of confidence that will extend in many directions!

  6. Thanks for posting this article. I've known for many years that I'm hardly the only teacher who feels this way, but so few are brave enough to go public with it; it's hard to stick out your neck when your livelihood depends on keeping your nose down. :-( We did homeschool for two years and we hope to return to it if and when we get financially caught up from my own underemployment during that time, but for the time being, this is our only real choice.

    I live in a state (MD) where the test scores of kids who've been opted out are scored as zeroes for the school, effectively bringing down the school's scores. This puts Maryland families who want to opt out in the awkward position of wanting to save their children but not wanting their schools' scores to go down.

    That said, in our own neighborhood school this year, I estimate conservatively that the discrete hours spent on test prep alone in the months preceding the MSA's involving ALL students in grades 3 through 5 add up to WELL OVER A WEEK of full-day instructional time - and this doesn't involve the 4 days per grade spent on the actual test over two weeks, which also involved pulling art, music, and PE teachers from their own classrooms to proctor so the entire school missed out on many specials classes for two weeks - so even pulling my children from the test itself would not exempt them from the rest of the process. :-(

    I'll definitely be looking into the other options available to us. I neither want to penalize my neighborhood school nor have my kids sit through hours and hours of test prep even if they don't have to take the tests every year through 8th grade (assuming that by the time they get there the tests haven't been extended through high school, anyway).

  7. I also wish to contribute but since I am teacher, I fear repercussions. Essentially, earlier this school year I estimated that the amount of time my students take tests amounted to about 19 percent of the school year. That doesn't include the time I spend teaching them how to take the test. Consider that extrapolated over 10 years of school (they don't take them K-2). It amounts to almost 2 years of lost education! Add test preparation and we lose an additional year. In 13 years of schooling K-12, students are subjected to mandated standardized testing (and preparation) for 3 of those years. Finland, the top educational system in the world does not use standardized tests and China has recently made the move to get away from them. Can anyone justify this huge expense? And to what end it is taking us? It seems to me that our education in the USA has fallen down the ranks as standardized tests have come to the forefront. It may not be correlative, but it definitely ISN'T helping.

  8. Testing is a part of life. What will happen when Title 1 schools lose funding because of not meeting the 95% participation rate? How will this opt-out movement benefit the kids when music and art are cut due to funding?

    No, I am not an administrator. I am a parent who has no issue with the testing. Perhaps a longer school year is in order to accommodate the learning objectives? In order for our kids to compete in a global economy, we need to compete on the same level. Our kids our coming out of high school not prepared for college. We have an obligation to make sure our kids are prepared for their future.