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Three Letters You Will Find Useful

Posted: 2003-04-07

Here are sample letters from CalCARE San Diego. CalCARE urges community members to contact local school board officials, state education officials, and state legislators. Write to CalCare San Diego at: takebackeducation@hotmail.com



SAMPLE LETTER TO SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER



February 25, 2003



Susan Hartley, San Diego County School Board

San Diego County Office of Education

6401 Linda Vista Road

San Diego, CA





Dear Ms. Hartley:



I am writing to urge you to take an informed and vocal stand on the issue of allocating education funds. As school districts debate ways to cut spending to cope with California?s budget crisis, many districts are accepting painful options: cutting curricular programs, laying off teachers and support staff, and increasing class sizes. In these debates, why do we hear NO discussion of saving as much as $340 million by eliminating (or at least reducing) California?s high-stakes educational testing programs (STAR and high school exit exam)?



Besides wasting precious taxpayer dollars, recent research shows that high-stakes testing programs correlate with declining student achievement on more reliable assessments and lead to a narrowing of the school curriculum. Because of what is tested, many elementary schools have made science and social science optional; art and music have been cut altogether. Even in higher grades where science and social science are tested, many teachers now emphasize bits of knowledge that conform easily to the multiple-choice format rather than more complex concepts and critical thinking that are not easily assessed on a standardized test.



Yet another problem with these tests that purport to assess students? progress on the California standards is that many important standards cannot be meaningfully assessed on a multiple-choice test. The California Language Arts standards, for example, require that students formulate judgments, analyze information, assess speakers? intentions, articulate meaningful questions, and speak effectively?none of which can be validly assessed by a standardized multiple-choice test.



Perhaps most horrifying is that these testing programs are increasing the achievement gap between economically advantaged suburban students and low socio-economic rural and inner-city students. Since the implementation of exit exams, high school dropout rates in states with such exams have increased frighteningly, particularly among low income, African-American, and Latino students.



I do not understand how education officials can continue to support these high-stakes testing programs, estimated to cost 20 billion dollars in direct and indirect costs nationally each year. Given the current California budget crisis and the condition of the national economy, I urge you to demand that these financially wasteful and educationally destructive testing programs be discontinued or at least scaled back dramatically. Courageous school boards across the country have already taken this stand in several ways: (1) committing to develop and implement alternative, performance-based assessments (Los Angeles and San Francisco); (2) announcing they will grant diplomas to students who meet the district graduation requirements regardless of their performance on state exit exams (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine); (3) doing cost benefit analysis on accepting federal NCLB funds (New Hampshire). Please join me in holding state government educationally and fiscally responsible by speaking out against high-stakes testing programs. Our children?s futures and the future of our society are at stake.



Sincerely,





Your name here



=========================================



Interested in excusing your child from the STAR tests but worried about ?hurting the school??



Here?s a sample letter

you might send to local and state officials.





Dear Local and State Boards of Education:



As a concerned and conscientious parent/guardian of a child enrolled in a California public school, I am choosing to excuse my child from the STAR program of high-stakes testing. I do this for several reasons:

? To send a message to politicians and other policy makers that this form of assessment is inappropriate and counterproductive to meaningful reform in education.

? To prevent children from being victimized by inclusion in comparisons that publicly and unfairly rank children and schools.

? So that my child, instead of wasting time taking these tests, may use that time pursuing activities that promote worthwhile learning.

? To send a message to politicians and other policy makers that our precious state dollars should not be wasted on this program when they are needed to maintain small class sizes and other important programs.



Many proponents of high-stakes testing programs argue that parents excuse their children from the tests largely because they fear that their children will not perform well. These are not my fears. Regardless of how my own student might perform, my fear is that my child?s participation might be seen as condoning this unjust system.



I am writing not only to voice my concern about the testing program but also to urge you not to use our school?s test scores to judge our teachers and administrators. As more and more parents realize the dangers of these tests and excuse their children from them, a school?s Academic Performance Index may naturally fall. This drop, however, will not be tied to the quality of education that school actually provides. To impose sanctions on a school or its employees based on an API ranking that is generated solely from test scores is irresponsible and damaging, especially since we know that the range of statistical error can be as high as 20 points. I understand that ?quality education? is represented by more than simplified and misleading statistics; in fact, I witness quality education daily in my local school as I observe students? work and watch teachers in action.



I have confidence that the local educators, parents, school board, and community members can hold our schools accountable using measures of assessment that are fair and reliable. I hope you will join me in working to implement such systems.



Sincerely,





[your name]



Your address here

====================



SAMPLE LETTER TO LEGISLATOR



February 25, 2003



The Honorable Bill Morrow, California State Senator

State Capitol, Room 4048

Sacramento, CA 95814





Dear Senator Morrow:



I am writing to urge you to take an informed and vocal stand on the issue of allocating education funds. As school districts debate ways to cut spending to cope with California?s budget crisis, many districts are accepting painful options: cutting curricular programs, laying off teachers and support staff, and increasing class sizes. In these debates, why do we hear NO discussion of saving as much as $340 million by eliminating (or at least reducing) California?s high-stakes educational testing programs (STAR and high school exit exam)?



Besides wasting precious taxpayer dollars, recent research shows that high-stakes testing programs correlate with declining student achievement on more reliable assessments and lead to a narrowing of the school curriculum. Because of what is tested, many elementary schools have made science and social science optional; art and music have been cut altogether. Even in higher grades where science and social science are tested, many teachers now emphasize bits of knowledge that conform easily to the multiple-choice format rather than more complex concepts and critical thinking that are not easily assessed on a standardized test.



Yet another problem with these tests that purport to assess students? progress on the California standards is that many important standards cannot be meaningfully assessed on a multiple-choice test. The California Language Arts standards, for example, require that students formulate judgments, analyze information, assess speakers? intentions, articulate meaningful questions, and speak effectively?none of which can be validly assessed by a standardized multiple-choice test.



Perhaps most horrifying is that these testing programs are increasing the achievement gap between economically advantaged suburban students and low socio-economic rural and inner-city students. Since the implementation of exit exams, high school dropout rates in states with such exams have increased frighteningly, particularly among low income, African-American, and Latino students.



On the way to eliminating these testing programs, a good first step would be to revise current California policy to follow the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which states:

? No testing of students before 3rd grade;

? Test each student only three times (once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12) instead of testing all students every year (meaning that every student is tested ten times during grades 2-11, equaling over 100 hours of testing). This change would also eliminate the foolish duplication of testing at grade 10 where students spend 12 hours completing STAR testing and another 10-12 hours taking the high school exit exam.



I do not understand how our legislators can continue to support these high-stakes testing programs, estimated to cost 20 billion dollars in direct and indirect costs nationally each year. Given the current budget crisis and the condition of the national economy, I urge you to demand that these financially wasteful and educationally destructive testing programs be discontinued or at least scaled back dramatically. The money saved could be channeled into keeping class sizes reasonable and skilled teachers in their classrooms. I believe that state government must be held accountable for educational and fiscal responsibility; please take a stand to demonstrate you believe this as well. Our children?s futures and the future of our society are at stake.



Sincerely,



Your name here

Your address here



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