Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Michigan's Got Pesky, Wasteful Standardized Testing--You Can Opt Out

The Bird is Back--it's Spring!
Photo by Ruth Kraut
If it's Spring--and I really think it is, because the Bird has emerged from under her snow blanket--then you know that it is also, in the schools, TESTING TIME.

This is true at many ages, but most especially in grades 3-8 and grade 11. For grades 3-8 there is still the NWEA MAP test (for the third time this year), and also there is the M-STEP, the MEAP replacement (but really it's like the MEAP on steroids). For the 11th grade there is the M-STEP, but there has already been the ACT and the Work Keys. And I think I might be forgetting another standardized test. [I've written about the NWEA a lot. If you do a blog search you will find numerous posts. so I'm not putting in any links here.]

And here's where I tell you: 

I am fully in support of you, as a parent, deciding to Opt Out your children from these tests. [Look for sample Opt Out letters this week.]


I am fully in support of you, as a parent, telling the schools that you REFUSE to let your student participate in practice testing for these tests. [Practice testing definitely takes up even more time than the actual testing, distracting from the core mission of the schools!]


I am fully in support of you, as a teacher, telling the schools that you REFUSE to do any practice testing. [Gutsy]


I am fully in support of you, as a teacher, telling the schools that you REFUSE to administer these tests. [Really gutsy; maybe dangerous if you want to keep teaching.]

I drew this as my "logo." (I'm happy to share it with others in
the Opt Out Movement.) I view the
Opt Out Movement as a Wave. Drawn by Ruth Kraut.

And here's where YOU say, "Well, that's easy for you to say. But you don't actually have any children in any of those grades." And that's true. I currently have a 10th grader and an exchange student who is a 12th grader attending Ann Arbor schools. I don't have any 3-8th graders, or any 11th graders.

So you might think that they are unaffected by all this testing. NOT SO.

Already this year, when the 11th graders were taking the ACT and Work Keys, the students in my house were sleeping in--because there was no school for 9th, 10th, or 12th graders, for 1-1/2 days that week. [And really--those half-days are useless, so it was more like losing 2 days of school.] And they didn't have school, so that somebody else could take a meaningless test. [Whatever you think about the ACT, I have no idea what the point, purpose, or use of WorkKeys is. But I'm pretty sure it's not helping those 11th graders with Reading, Writing, or 'Rithmetic. Or History, Science, Art or Health.]

Why Now?

Well, the M-STEP is a made up test. We were supposed to use the Smarter Balanced test, but our legislators got cold feet about its relationship to Common Core.

The M-STEP test has not been validated [tested in advance to see if it makes any sense in a statistical way], and based on the sample questions I've seen [see the link in the "quote" below] the clear answer is that NO, they don't make any sense. Plus it will be replaced next year by a different test. So there won't even be any comparison data.

Take a look at some sample M-STEP questions here: The MSTEP testing window is quicky approaching. Have you looked at the test? If not you can see the samples here (Username is math#samp for math and ela#samp for English language arts, with # being replaced by the grade level you want (so math6samp for 6th grade math). The password is test1234.

So they have designated the M-STEP this year as a "pilot" year. It's not going to be used to count for anything as far as school participation goes, or as far as teacher evaluations go. It's ONLY going to be used to waste our children's time, and to divert our children from much more important (and interesting) activities.

Teachers I have talked to are terrified by the M-STEP. They are terrified about the idea that these tests will be used to judge them. They are terrified that students won't do well on them (probably true, when you see the questions you realize they are completely developmentally inappropriate).

But wait...there's more! There are, to my knowledge, very few protections as to how your child's data will be used. In other states, the testing agencies are surveilling social media (twitter, and more) to see if kids "give out" information about the tests.

Administrators are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are mandated to give these tests, but if they tell you that they can't "let you" opt your child out, just remind them that this is not their decision. You are the parent, and you decide what is best for your child. That is your right.

Tomorrow or the next day I will post some sample Opt Out letters.

In the meantime, here's why this is important. When we allow the tests to be given, we lose all the things that we hold dear in education.

The combination of the M-STEP and the NWEA MAP test means less time for everyone else in the computer labs, and fewer field trips. Fewer math problems. Fewer science experiments. Fewer books in free reading time. You get the idea. You don't have to allow it.

I encourage you to opt out, and to tell the district why. 

If you are thinking, "I agree with you, and yet I don't want to be disruptive, and I'm not comfortable going all the way," I should tell you that there is a third way, but it involves really engaging with your learner about why this testing is so disruptive. And it involves your student agreeing with you [not a guarantee, with peer pressure!].

Tell the school that your child may take the final test but is not to participate in any--any--any practice testing options.

Meanwhile, tell your child...

Tell your child that you don't care about this test. And mean it. 
Talk to your child about why this test is different from the math test the teacher will give next week, the one that you do care about.

Tell your child that you don't care if they answer "a" to every multiple choice question, and type gibberish in the box where they "write" an essay
Explain why that is different from the two page paper that you do care about--the one where they have to write about the cultures of Spain or Cameroon for the 8th grade Global Cultures curriculum.

Tell your child that you don't care if the only thing they do is put their name on the test. Tell your child that taking this test is this is the least important thing that they will do all year.

This "softer" opt out option might sound easier, but I think it might be more difficult. It's hard to sit in a test and not really do it--we've been trained to try our best, and that's what all of the "encouragement" will be. Plus if you are sitting there, there won't be anything else to do. And not-doing-anything boredom is different from doing-anything-boredom. Opt out, and maybe you get to do some math or read a book.

The other thing we all have to do--and this requires training ourselves, and it is hard--is IGNORE the test results. Don't validate them by discussing them. Ignore them.

I used to think that the testing wasn't really so harmful. I was wrong. It's part and parcel of a profit-making machine that has as its core mission the destruction of our beautiful public schools.

So in my mind, I envision the wave of opting out as part of a broader social movement to save our schools. Whatever you do in opposition, is worthwhile.

I'll close with a favorite quote of a favorite author, Audre Lorde: 

When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

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  1. 1. Ann Arbor is asking teachers to spend instruction time teaching students how to use the M-STEP digital tools on the test (there are no set lessons, so teachers must also create these themselves),
    2. The M-STEP was supposed to be adaptive, now it's not going go be (so why have it online now?),
    3. The State of Michigan STILL gives no incentive for students to complete something like the M-STEP (many states require passing in order to get a diploma or offer college funding (as Michigan once used to do) for certain scores),
    4. Ann Arbor high school teachers will be administering the test and will have a substitute teacher cover his/her classroom because all students will still be coming to school (so the teacher not only has to administer the test, but also has to create sub plans and plan on being absent from the classroom on a specific day). I also wonder how much money is being spent on substitute teachers (will we even have enough?) across all of the high schools.

    1. I wondered what they were going to do with the 11th graders. Because most high school classes are not for a single grade, but mixed--so the substitute plans cannot be anything that the 11th graders will really need to know--wasted time either way, I guess.

    2. My first reaction was that might be true at Community (and Skyline?) but less so at Pioneer. Then I realized that some of my 11th grader's classes are mixed grades (orchestra, health, calc). But he's only in calc because he's ahead of the standard math curriculum. I suspect the majority of kids at Pio have math, english, science, and social studies primarily with their grade cohort for all 4 years. Maybe also foreign languages?

      Anyway, all that to say that this morning I had an aha moment where I realized he's also going to be subject to this M-STEP on top of ACT (which at least is useful for college admissions) and possibly-pointless Work Keys. I'm definitely going to look into having him opt-out. I suspect Pioneer will make it difficult.

  2. I am bothered that the district is ready to tell me I can't opt my child out but not explain to me why I shouldn't. "Cause we said so" is bad parenting and it's bad PR. Yet I so hesitate to throw my lot in with the right on this. Seeing sample opt out letters from Thomas More law center makes me cringe.

  3. Thank you. I'm looking forward to the sample letters.

  4. Thank you - while my child doesn't start at AAPS until kindergarten this fall, I'm already planning to opt out if things are still this insane when he reaches 3rd grade. I can't believe we've gone from "let's set some educational standards that make sense" to "let's spend all of our time testing and prepping for tests" - and all in the name of corporate profits!

    What's scariest to me is that with all of this testing, we're killing EXACTLY what has made this country great and its economy so resilient - creativity, innovation, social skills, teamwork, problem-solving, and executive function - by creating a generation of robots. It's so short-sighted and sad...and will end up *contributing* to economic equality in the end.

  5. Last year the district formed some kind of committee to evaluate the standardized testing that AAPS participates in. Did they ever issue a report? It's hard for me to believe that if their stated goal was to make sure the testing was 'sensible', that they would find the M-STEP to be at all sensible especially since it hasn't been validated and won't be useful for longitudinal purposes.