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Why a Student and Parent Testing Protection Act?

There is a need to protect students, families and communities from abusive assessment practices that violate due process, civil rights and liberties.

Publication Date: 2007-06-29

June 2007

This Protection Act clearly states the problems and the needed protections to prevent further child abuse by misuse of standardized testing.

Many students are being denied promotion, access to programs and schools, and barred from receiving high school diplomas or graduation certificates based solely or primarily on standardized test scores. These students are disproportionately poor, of color and from immigrant families whose home language is not English. Large numbers of competent students, including exceptionally talented students and students with learning disabilities do not perform well on conventional standardized tests.

One consequence of NCLB and state testing requirements is that schools and programs may be ‘restructured’ or dismantled based solely or primarily on standardized test scores. Numerous exemplary schools and programs have been closed or are under threat of closure.

The pressures on schools to raise standardized test scores particularly those that serve poor children and children of color narrows the curriculum, marginalizing crucial areas of children̢۪s and adolescents̢۪ development and growth. Among the casualties are music, the performing and graphic arts, bilingual education, community internships, citizenship education, fitness and health education.

NCLB Act’s Reading First provisions are being used to dictate to states, school districts, and teachers how reading should be taught. Currently the US Department of Education approves funding for materials and programs that meet the government’s interpretation of the term ‘scientifically based’. Federal approval of Reading First grant applications has become thoroughly politicized and corrupted. The head of the Reading First program was forced to resign after the Inspector General and a Congressional committee found gross violations of the USOE’s guidelines by Reading First officials who approved purchase of highly structured phonics reading programs and materials favored or produced by corporations and corporate executives who are major contributors to political campaigns.

School officials rarely inform parents, of their legal rights with respect to testing and assessment. Information about available exemptions, test content, technical specifications, and methods of analyzing and reporting test results are often withheld from students, parents and the public. When parents or students attempt to challenge testing procedures and results, they are often denied access to information from test producers and government officials.

Proposed Parent and Student Testing Protections

1. Require an Educational Impact Report prior to the imposition of a system of high stakes assessment or a particular method of assessment by a governing authority. The report should address the immediate and longer-term effects on students, schools, and local communities (disaggregated by race, gender, and family wealth), and to assess the human and material resources required to fulfill the assessment requirements. Assessment goals or standards may not be instituted or modified if the resources required for meeting these standards are not provided by the government jurisdiction that set the standards.

2. Prohibit the use of standardized tests as the sole or primary basis for determining promotion, student access to advanced programs or schools, and the awarding of certificates or diplomas. Non-standardized, qualitative modes of assessment must be available to students or particular groups of students whose education is better served by alternatives to standardized forms of testing and assessment.

3. Prohibit the disestablishment or restructuring of a school or program within a school based solely or primarily on rankings of students on standardized tests. All standardized tests mandated for assessing individual, and institutional performance must be independently verified as meeting the accepted national professional standards

4. Grant parents the right to exempt their children from tests and assessments that they deem harmful or inappropriate. Prohibit governments from imposing punitive consequences on students or schools regardless of the percentage of students or parents within a school who have exercised their right to be exempted from taking a particular test or set of tests.

5. Prohibit government officials and agencies from mandating school curriculum, setting local priorities or prescribing specific curriculum content and pedagogical methods. The determination of what constitutes appropriate practice should reside with teachers, local educational authorities, and communities While federal, state governments, and local educational authorities (LEAs) have the authority and responsibility to set general guidelines and standards, this may not be construed as granting governments the authority to direct teachers how to teach or mandate the specific body of skills and content that meet the broadly stated curriculum goals, guidelines, and/or standards. Government requirements for ‘efficacious’ or ‘scientifically-based’ materials and approaches may not be construed as granting government the authority to override the public interest, local community, parent, and student prerogatives by declaring what does and does not count as scientific truth. It is an affront to the democratic commitment to an open society to grant elected or appointed public officials at any level the power to serve as the final arbiter of what is accepted as scientific truth.

6. Require transparency. Teachers and school officials should be required to fully inform students and families of their testing and assessment rights, the right to know in advance the competencies and/or the area or areas of knowledge the assessments cover; the technical specifications and limitations of assessments; standard error of measurement; on whom and how the tests were normed or scaled; and how cut scores or proficiency levels were established. When assessments are used for promotion, eligibility for a program or award of a diploma, parents and students should have the right to due process and prompt redress of grievances including access to test questions and answers.

JUNE 2007. May be posted without prior permission. Source: Harold Berlak hberlak@yahoo.com

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