[Susan notes: Here's a public letter directed to parents--telling them how the test harms their children and advising them to exercise their right to opt out.]
Published in Daily Triplicate
I am a resource specialist teacher at Del Norte HS. Last week, I tortured students, perhaps one of your children. The California Department of Education made me do it. I had to administer the required standardized tests to students who are reading and performing far below grade level.
For students who are functioning at grade level, the standardized tests are perhaps a viable way to measure a student's performance against other students' performances at his/her grade level in the state of CA. These tests are written at grade level, so they are a difficult, perhaps impossible task for students who are not functioning at their grade level. These students are reminded everyday of their school lives that they are inferior to the others who fit the profile of the "normal" student: the ones who will pass Algebra I and the CAHSEE (CA High School Exit Exam) and go to college. These tests are another hurtful blow to their self-concepts.
What does one do when one is faced with a difficult, even impossible, task? Some of us get a headache (many did); some of us get sick to our stomachs (some did), and some of us avoid the situation all together (a few ditched classes): all understandable responses to a stressful situation.
Most students were compliant and completed the answer sheet. They used test-taking strategies: read the question, look for the answer, make a good guess. Only fill-in one bubble per line. Fill-in the bubble completely. Use an index card to keep your place. Try your best.
Parents should know that what these tests really measure for students who are functioning below grade level are compliance and the ability to complete a multiple choice answer sheet correctly. That's all. Because many of these students are unable to read these tests, the test scores do not tell you what your child knows in English, math, science, or history; they just tell you that your child is reading below grade level.
Even if read to them, the language level is too difficult for many students. One of my students who was receiving reading assistance per his Individualized Educational Plan asked, "Can you tell me what the words mean?" No. "Then why bother reading them to me?" I replied that he had more common sense than all of the legislators who were forcing him to take the test.
My students will be the mechanics who repair your cars, the cosmetologists who style your hair and manicure your nails, or the childcare workers who take care of your children while you work: all honorable and valuable jobs. They will remember those humiliating days in school when they were forced to take "those tests." More importantly, they will remember how taking those tests made them feel: inferior.
Parents always have final say in their child's educational program. Any parent can request that their child be exempted from these required tests. In your own handwriting, write a note to the school administrator, and include your phone number in this note because an administrator will call you to verify the authenticity of the note.
If enough parents just say no to these tests, perhaps the legislators who are forcing these tests to be given to ALL students will get the message that parents want their children to spend less time being tortured with tests and more time learning at their own level, at their own pace, and in their own way.