I sent this late last night to all members of the House Education Committee as well as all sponsors and co-sponsors of this important legislation.
“April 25, 2015
Dear House Education Committee Members;
It was my pleasure to be in attendance at the April 22 House Education Committee meeting and to hear the discussion and debate around HB 50. I was concerned about what I felt were a few areas of inconsistent messaging and inaccurate information, and I wanted to share my thoughts further.
During my public comment, I pointed out that many members of the committee demonstrated the basic issues with the standardized testing system. It is not lost on me as a parent and an educator that there needs to be both accountability and demonstration of student achievement. However, when the major concerns raised by many of the legislators present revolved around the “uneducated inner city parents” being unable to advocate for their children and the possibility that schools and educators might “counsel out” students with disabilities, students of racial or ethnic minority status, students of low socio-economic status, and students from inner city or urban areas to boost their scores, this to me says the testing is not being used to identify which students need additional resources. Clearly the representatives are aware that these categories of students are the most likely to not meet proficiency levels on these standardized assessments, and in fact the data over the past decade or so since the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind, bears this out. The “cells” commonly missed for schools to meet adequate yearly progress are usually in the areas listed above; do we really need a new test for a new generation of students to tell us what years of data already has?
Speaking of years of data, what steps has the Delaware Department of Education, the elected officials in that timeframe, and the legislature done to address these needs? Why have there been so many reports from so many different advisory groups addressing the needs of students in the city of Wilmington that have gone unheeded until now? Why are there so many charter schools authorized in the city, further fragmenting the voice and cohesiveness of the community? All we seem to do in education is collect more data and generate more reports, but action is rarely taken. When action is taken, it violates every research-based best educational practice in a highly disruptive, disrespectful way, and it has continued for far too long.
When educators say they want to know how their students are progressing, and that they need data, the least useful form of data is this large standardized test. As a parent and an educator, I fully understand the desire to reduce the number of tests a student takes that are outside the curriculum. However, cutting out the formative tests is really not the way to go. Those are the tests that identified my son as a struggling reader in kindergarten so he could get the help he needed to become an advanced reader in first grade. Those are the tests that qualified my daughter for the talented and gifted program in third grade. The Smarter Balanced Assessment results would not have been returned in time for my kids’ teachers to make real changes and impact their education in the moment. Additionally, now that all educators are responsible for fulfilling a student achievement goal in the evaluation system, all those tests will need to be given for those purposes. If any test should be the one to go, it would quite obviously be the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the only test that has literally no ability to impact anything about an educator’s individualized instruction in the classroom and which results will not be received in time to evaluate the educators under the DPAS II system.
When I made the decision to not allow my daughter to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year, and the “practice DCAS” last year, it was with full awareness that this test would have zero impact on the services she is receiving from her teachers. We had a very long discussion about the difference between the regular tests her teachers give and this particular assessment, and she knows she is only able to skip this one. She also knows that, if she is sent to the computer lab with her classmates, she has my permission to read a book and is not to touch the computer. Although I understand the threats that the US Department of Education has levied against the states with regards to testing percentage requirements, with all due respect, that is of very little concern to me as a parent. This issue is extremely personal, and as a parent it is my responsibility to make the decision that is best for my child. In this case, that is to not take this test. Regardless of anything else, short of taking my child’s hand and physically putting it on the computer mouse, there is no person who will be able to force me to reconsider or force her to take the test. And my other three children will not be taking the test, either.
There are plenty of ways to evaluate educators without the heavy emphasis placed on this standardized assessment. The focus on standardized assessments is destroying American education, narrowing the subjects students have an ability to learn, and reducing the time educators have to get to know their students and really hone in on the best ways to instruct them. We are truly not testing for data, because we already know, as you yourselves pointed out, which students need the additional resources they do not have. We also know what resources our communities need, and although there are no easy answers, it is imperative that we drop the rhetoric that has no potential for altering the outcomes and really address the root of the issues. We need a weighted funding formula for high needs schools that funnels MORE money into these schools without reducing the funding in the remaining schools. We need a cohesive plan for education in the city of Wilmington in particular, but for the state in general. We need district-level charter schools as opposed to state-authorized charters.
But most of all we need to remove the fear of failure from our educators and students. That’s all the testing gives us. I implore you to support this legislation, House Bill 50, and clarify the existing ability for parents to determine the educational course for their students with regards to this one assessment. Once the dust has settled we can begin the discussion about the proven methods of evaluating student learning and determining the educator’s role in that achievement.
Thank you for your time, and for your dedication to the people of the state of Delaware.