Stop Outsourcing our Children

I’m not proud of what I’m about to share with you, but here goes. Many of you know me as “Leadville Laurel,” one of your local authors. I have taught, and continue to teach, English to many of your children. So when I started hearing about the new test—PARCC—which replaces CSAP this year, I started asking questions. My questions were answered with grumbles. “Take the 5th grade practice test,” someone suggested, “and see for yourself.”

Never one to walk away from a respectable challenge, and feeling quite confident that I am smarter than most 5th graders, I visited the web site and started the 5th grade English test. An hour later and with shaking hands (pretty sure my blood pressure was up several points), I got my score: 30/40, a solid 75%, perfectly “average” for a 5th grader. Granted, I didn’t go back to check my answers, so I might have reconsidered some of my responses. And I suppose I might have earned an extra four points for two essays I wrote, one having to compile and compare information from three separate essays and one having to rewrite a narrative from a different character’s point-of-view, but those portions would have to be evaluated by a faceless person and scored. When? Who knows!

Developed by Pearson, the same company that earns its fortunes through the sale of textbooks to our schools, the test—in addition to being stressful—is vague, complicated, and confusing. So why am I sharing this with you? Why am I confessing that despite my MA in English, I did not even score in the “Good” range on a 5th grade test? Because I’m asking you to do what I did. Pick one of the practice tests and see how you do. Then scream out loud. Then, if you have a grade 3-10 student, hug them. Then write a letter to their school saying, “I am opting my child out of taking the PARCC test this year.”

Schools across the country are already protesting the increasing insanity of the testing we’ve imposed on our children since the inception of NCLB. Proponents of these springtime tests (with results coming months later, never in time to alter instruction) say that testing is a part of life, and use the SAT college exam as a reason to pre-pre-pre-test. I say hogwash. If teachers were allowed to teach their students core material (teach, not test, because there is no instruction or learning happening during a test) like my teachers could back in the olden days, their students would do just fine on the SAT. Or not. Not everyone needs to attend a four-year college anymore.

Most parents won’t take my suggestion. Most will continue to grumble, but will not want to “rock the boat.” And without a dissenting majority, our schools will continue to buy the latest “testing success” materials and our children will learn less and less each year. And perhaps our parents don’t feel qualified to be vocal about what’s happening in our classrooms, so here’s my suggestion to those of you who don’t like what’s happening, but are unsure of what to suggest as an alternative to having your child sit through days of meaningless assessments.

Our school district is still in the process of implementing Expeditionary Learning. Why not use testing week(s) to have our students complete a project that is both meaningful and manageable to evaluate internally using the core standards at each grade level for English, math, and science? At least have that as an “opt out option” rather than sending students wherever administrators decide to send those who are bold enough to “just say no” this year.

Here’s the thing. Our teachers are “highly qualified” in their subject areas and in evaluation strategies. They know what their students should learn and where they are weak. They’ve endured countless hours of professional development on the same topics every year (from money-making companies who package old ideas with new names), and they’ve been forced to outsource the evaluation of their students to corporations that don’t give two hoots about them or their classrooms. Why?

We can’t afford to be complacent anymore. Whether we have children in the public school system or not, we pay for the schools in our district, and all of our graduates will impact the communities in which they live. We all should feel empowered to demand more: More learning, less testing. Opt out, Leadville, and work with your elected officials and school board members to take back the education and evaluation of our students from careless corporations.