Teacher: More Georgia parents should opt their children out of testing

Should parents be able to demand their children take tests with pencil and paper rather than online?

Danelle Chamberlin is a full-time 4th grade teacher and a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Theory and Practice. In this piece, she explains why the Georgia Milestones exams are not helpful to parents, students or teachers.

By Danelle Chamberlin

It’s that time of year again when thousands of schoolchildren are taking their end-of-the year tests. Here in Georgia they come in the form of the Georgia Milestones Assessments.

As a teacher, I am constantly faced with similar questions and concerns from parents about testing in education today. Among the questions: How are students being promoted based on Milestones scores? What are the scores used for? Can my child opt out of testing?

Let’s be honest. Milestones Assessments and arguably most end-of-the year assessments including the  CRCT don’t provide educators with any unknown information about a student. Spending every school day with your children paints a much better picture of who the children are and how they perform more than any test score could ever do. The test score is only one small piece of data that “proves” the child’s performance in the areas they are being assessed.

However, even with the new updates to standardized testing, which includes constructed written responses in addition to multiple choice questions, the results are still not at all indicative of what a student knows or is capable of doing. For example, many students can create projects and presentations that demonstrate mastery of what they learned in a unit, yet still struggle to regurgitate the mundane facts for a multiple choice test. The other problem is the educational environment we have created around high stakes testing. Now, many students are experiencing a range of emotions to these tests from anxiety to apathy toward another test.

So, will students who passed the majority of everything all year be held back because they failed the Milestones? No. Schools look at the whole child and not just the test score.

If the Milestones Assessment is a promotion requirement in your school, it does not mean it is the only requirement. Again, assessments are a snapshot in time; the school will look at the whole child and an entire year’s performance. Not to mention, you can opt your child out of standardized testing. However, in doing so, many school districts require an opt-out process depending on the grade level and content.

This process may be as simple as writing a letter; or it will consist of a formal repeal process, which may include meetings to ensure your child is not being penalized for opting out. For more information on the opting out process, there are many groups that have taken up this movement and can provide resources on the web to guide you as a parent or guardian in the decision-making process.

What are tests scores being used for in schools besides promotion?

Within the individual schools, the test scores are sometimes being used to determine if students may need extra academic support in the following school year or if they are progressing at a satisfactory rate. Some schools will reward students based on growth from the previous school year or by getting a certain score. These rewards often include pizza, Popsicles, or dance parties. Counties will use them to show growth in schools and to rank schools because every student is given the same test.

However, the reality of the tests is that schools don’t know what the children got wrong or why. The test scores are given to the next year’s teacher in August who is still getting to know the child in the first place.

Why isn’t there more of a push for opting out of standardized assessments among parents and teachers? Many teachers are afraid of losing their jobs because these assessments are tied to teacher evaluations as well as principal evaluations, school accountability reports and federal funding. With Georgia being a right-to-work state, they are afraid that if only one or two teachers stand up against testing they’ll lose their jobs. As for most parents, they don’t know there is an opt-out process or do not want to make their child feel stigmatized for not taking the test.

Standardized tests such as the Milestones are not helping students. These tests take time away from valuable instruction and provide us with data we already know in most cases. However, nothing is going to change without movements from both parents and teachers to discourage the constant barrage of testing. For more information, follow the #optout2016 movement through Twitter, unitedoptout.org, fairtest.org and other grassroots organizations.

 

Reader Comments 0

57 comments
CSpinks
CSpinks

Jerry, your suspicion is ill-founded: I have seen no evidence that the most recently employed standardized tests used by GaDOE are either valid or reliable and, consequently, make no judgment upon their reliability and validity. The only GMAS-, CRCT-, and EOCT-based judgment I'm prepared to make is that they're extremely expensive, unlike the valid and reliable ITBS which was scuttled in the austerity cuts attributed to The Great Recession.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Have to say, it's quite enlightening to see how few individuals comment on this column, now that it is behind a "paywall" (sort of).

jerryeads
jerryeads

I suspect Mr. Spinks reflects the common mistaken assumption that tests like the Milestones and former CRCT/EOCT/EtcCT tests are reliable (could you get the same answer twice) and valid (do the results tell you anything useful about the child or school). Nothing could be further from reality. 

First, the tests are not particularly reliable. New versions of the tests must be rushed to print (or software) every year. Literally hundreds of poorly-paid, high-turnover, and not particularly well-trained - or experienced in the content - contract staffers (called "item-writers") rush to whip together questions that look something like the ones asked in prior years. The new questions are quickly reviewed by people who (hopefully) know a little bit more than the item writers. Those questions are tnen "nested" in last year's test to be compared to the "real" questions. From those trial questions a new test is put together for the current year. All this is done as inexpensively as possible - after all, the low bidder wins the contract. I could go on about the variability in the clarity of the generally not very well written questions (so that the child understands what the temp-worker item writer meant) or about the astronomical variability in student motivation to sit down and take yet another boring test. And on and on.

Second, whether the tests are "valid" is a very complex issue, but those of us who know something about this business - and don't have our heads in the clouds (or are making money off of the game) - know full well that it's a HUGE and precarious leap to think that a fifty-minute test of multiple-choice questions written by temp workers who may well not have a clue what the standards upon which the questions are supposed to be based has much to do with what goes on for 180 days in a classroom.

Finally, if we actually cared about making education better, we'd do these tests at the beginning of the year so that to the extent they mean anything at all they'd help a teacher confirm what he or she's learning about the child NOW. Results from a test from 3-4-5 months ago is virtually meaningless for young children.

All that said, YES we could use some meaningful data on how schools are doing. No argument there. Unfortunately, the junk most states have cobbled together in the name of "accountability" doesn't do much in that regard. 

That the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results have stayed essentially flat for thirty years perhaps tells us that endless end-of-year minimum competency testing might not have been terribly helpful.

Starik
Starik

You should meet your kids' teachers.  Some will be excellent in all respects, but some will not be.  If the teacher doesn't understand what they're teaching, they are not fit to teach your kids.  You want your kids to speak standard English.  Georgia education is in trouble.  There are good school districts.  Move if you can. 

CSpinks
CSpinks

Lest we forget: We Georgians have a compelling interest in learning how well our public schools are preparing our kids- all of them, even the poor ones- for responsible, productive adulthoods. Valid, reliable standarized academic tests provide us valuable insights into the efficacy of GaPubEd in performing this critical function.

Sharon Sharp
Sharon Sharp

Are Georgia schools Still at the bottom of the Educational totem pole!!!!

Ryan Mclean
Ryan Mclean

That would be a question mark at the end. You must've been one of those at the bottom ..LOL

kw2012atl
kw2012atl

Testing also makes teachers accountable which is the real reason teachers hate it.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@kw2012atl Teachers hate tests that are unreliable, have not internal or external validity and were written in a standard that does not meet the psychometric standards they were taught to use in college to measure student learning.  Have you even read one SLO? Have you seen the results of one EOG or EOC? Have you seen the research based standards behind the creation of the tests?


Teachers also hate spending time literally committing educational malpractice in the sheer drill and kill of preparing students to score well on the tests so that their school and/or district can look good.  When was the last time you spent an April and May in any public school to see what the students are doing?


This is all no big deal if you do not have a child in a public school in Georgia, but if you do, I would recommend really looking into how the instructional time is used. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@kw2012atl Weird that you think a test of the learner makes the teacher accountable.

Don't know what your job is, but how about they give you a team of 30 workers that are the 30 twenty year olds that live closest to your workplace?


Rules:

1. You can't interview or screen them

2. You can't make them come to work

3. You can't make them work

4. You can't fire them for not working

5. You can't pay them - they just have to believe that     the experience will benefit them in the future.

6. YOU will be held accountable for their knowledge and productivity.


rubykins7
rubykins7

Special education students, who are in modified classes all year long, are required to take unmodified standardized tests. They get accommodations like extra time, but the test they take is the same one the general education students take. ESOL students, who are also in modified classes, must also take an unmodified test. The majority of these kids are not going to pass these tests, no matter how much time and effort they and their teachers put in, which sets everyone up for failure. If we are being honest, most of these kids are not going to attend a traditional four year college, if they attend college at all. But, since auto repair and shop classes are now passé, we end up graduating a group of kids with no practical skills, who are unprepared for life after high school. Life is about more than academics and college, and college isn't for everyone - but no one seems willing to address that elephant in the room.

Jennie Mae Hill Smith
Jennie Mae Hill Smith

Someone somewhere is making a fortune off these tests at the expense of teachers and students.

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

The problem is not standardized tests, but rather the academicians who develop unnecessarily difficult measures and every changing theoretical processes for teaching, and politicians who develop biased policies not based on reality.

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

When will our erstwhile 'SCHOOLS OF EDUCATION' study the Korean system, and adopt some of their practices?  Look at where they have come the past 50 years, and the direction they are headed, compared to the decline we are seeing in the USA. 

high-school-teacher
high-school-teacher

In South Korea, students attend school 6 days a week. They also go to prep schools in the evening to study for college entrance exams. They also still use corporal punishment. Our system needs an overhaul, but  I really don't want to adopt the Korean system.

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

By all means -- GET YOUR SNOWFLAKES OUT OF THAT 'BAD OLD TESTING', and making them feel bad if they do not put in the effort to score well enough to be moved on! 


Parents 'protecting their snowflakes' in secondary education should be required to read  Tony Wagner's book -- "THE GLOBAL ACHIEVEMENT GAP"!  We continue to fall behind our global competitors annually, and wonder why former American business is moving to other countries!


You may find yourself supporting your snowflake for decades to come -- after they start competing with robotics and artificial intelligence at McDonalds!

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@PappyHappy Great post, but keep in mind, the issue the eduacracy has about testing is not (as usual) "for the kids".  Its the fact that these tests can be used to provide actual, objective measurements to determine if a teacher is actually effective, and adding value to their students.  


As usual, the real "concern" isn't for the kids at all (but rather for the adults)...but it's of course dressed up as if the "kids" are somehow being damaged.

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

@dcdcdc @PappyHappy True enough.  Think that states would do themselves a big favor to have aggressive reviews made by BUSINESSES/HEALTH INDUSTRIES/HIGH TECH INDUSTRIES as to what skills and knowledge they will require over the next 2 - 3 decades, and then require their schools of education to commence filling the requirement.  

Interestingly, this is done in other disciplines, but lacking in the schools of education across the Country -- including Columbia!  

While it is not fair for all graduates of these schools, many of the graduates end up in education because of the rigor in other academic disciplines, and our kids and society pay the price! 

teachermom4
teachermom4

My system is telling parents in grades 3, 5, and 8 that if they opt out, the child will be put on the retention list. I'm sure it's to discourage this type of article from having an effect on the number of kids tested, but I'm not sure how they would enforce it.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@teachermom4 Opted-out kids are generally higher-scoring.  When their scores are out, it reflects negatively for the school, principal, and teachers.


I'd like to know on what order schools are allowed to retain students who do not take the tests.   After all, transferring-in students won't have those scores.

teachermom4
teachermom4

@Wascatlady @teachermom4 I totally get that. I also think it's a lawsuit waiting to happen if they even try to make it stick. Kids who had bad grades and failed CRCT were moved on (often against teacher recommendation), yet they will retain kids with good grades just because they didn't take the test? I don't think so. It's a scare tactic.

Joel Shipp
Joel Shipp

I will give my last test on Monday. They are too long, and it is impossible to teach that many concepts in one teaching season. It's torture on the kids. While I believe we should have some way to measure achievement, it sure isn't done during five days of utter torture on the kids and teachers. I'm over it; I'm retiring in a few weeks.

HotDawg
HotDawg

Maureen and this woman also think crack is whack.

OldSmoky
OldSmoky

Just too bad that they don't teach History, Government, Economics and Physics anymore--the kids might learn something about how this country was run one time and won a World War in 4 years. 

Starik
Starik

@OldSmoky The USA did the heavy lifting in the war against Japan, but you have to give the Russians most of the credit for defeating Hitler, along with the British.

Milo
Milo

Typical UGA education school crap. This is nothing more than enabling lousy teachers, parents, and students. Another silly, ignorant educator. 

HotDawg
HotDawg

Sounds like a personal bias against UGA, for some childish reason.

Did they beat your team?

Astropig
Astropig

Parents that may be on the fence about this: I respect your right to do what you think is best,but you need to think long and hard about the educational quackery being promoted above.You'd never in a million years refuse to get your kid inoculated because some "expert" had a theory that uses your child as the guinea pig to prove their point.Same with this.In 7-10 years,when your child misses out on an opportunity for a better life through higher education,these "experts" will have moved on to the next gold mine or flavor-of-the-month edufad and you'll wish you had done something different back in'16.And you know for darn sure that the AJC ain't gonna run an apology for screwing up your kids chances at something important,because the press never makes a mistake that they own up to.


Just some food for thought.Best of luck.

BRV
BRV

I love the vaccination analogy for its pure absurdity. It's quackery comparable to claims that chiropractic is an effective treatment for ADHD. I haven't opted my kids out of tests, but the only harm that could actually occur to them if I did is that they wouldn't get placed in advanced classes since our district uses the test scores for that purpose. I certainly wouldn't have any less information about how they're fairing academically.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig Unfortunately, quite a few parents do opt out of vaccinations nowadays.


Of course, they never watched a family member die due to lack of these shots in the old days.

BRV
BRV

True but it doesn't make equating testing and vaccination any less ridiculous.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Astropig Are you going to apologize for all the nonsense you have written if you are wrong?

CivilWarrior
CivilWarrior

In my opinion, the assertion that "many students can create projects and presentations that demonstrate mastery of what they learned in a unit," undermines the author's entire position.  She is advocating the current fad in education theory:  project-based learning.  Is not this constant turnover of trends, in which test-obsession is now on the way out, the underlying problem?  Rather than simply and truly focus on learning, the so-called experts instead promulgate doctrines and voice belief in endlessly-repeated phrases such as "critical thinking,""cooperative learning," etc.  Meanwhile, students are denied basic knowledge and substantive subject matter previously considered standard in the most rudimentary education.


While I am no fan of excessive tests, suggesting that projects can replace them is frankly silly.  My daughter is in an accelerated middle-school program with lots of projects, and this is the way they go:  One student does 90% of the work; the others contribute little or nothing; but all receive the same grade.  It is no different from my time in school decades ago, but is simply a matter of human nature which does not change.  As to individual projects, if students need only complete projects to demonstrate their progress, most will choose the easiest route rather than take on subject matter that does not interest or intrigue them.  The current idealization of projects avoids the hard truth that education is not entertainment but involves effort and work, some of it rote and boring.

Another comment
Another comment

My daughter was stuck like your daughter doing about 99% of the work on projects with 3 lower income boys. They thought she could pull them up and I could buy all the supplies. My daughter got fed up with the boys not doing anything on the project. So she fixed them, she called in sick on the day the project was due they had done nothing, so they all got caught with nothing done.

teachermom4
teachermom4

@CivilWarrior While I am no fan of the tests, the amounts of them, and how they are being used, I completely agree with what you have said here. I am tired of having kids (and their parents) use the excuse that a child was "bored" and that's why they failed. Could it be they didn't do the work? Didn't study for the test? Didn't pay attention in class? I seldom give projects for all of the reasons mentioned above. Well said.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@CivilWarrior I share your concerns with project-based learning. A friend in leadership training told me it is nonsense that these collaborations are necessary to because it mimics how the business world works. She says the school project has little in common with the business world where teams are assembled carefully and everyone brings a special talent to bear. There is a manager making sure each team member contributes. In school projects, she says slackers learn they can do nothing and dedicated students learn they have to do it all.  Nobody wins, in her view. 

Also, when I read student reviews of the one of most heralded high schools in the country, several graduates affirmed your point that the project-based curriculum did not serve them well in preparing them for the rigor of college work and the need to focus on details. This high school allowed kids to work on a project of their choosing for an entire year. The students now in college said that while it was engaging, it was not the preparation they needed for college.

HILUX
HILUX

I seriously doubt even teachers' union types opt out of testing: parents want to know how well their kids and their zip code schools are doing.

But the urge by some to suppress this information is as understandable as it is deplorable.

Another comment
Another comment

This is exactly what folks did in the higher income UNion School DIstricts in NY State. It adversely effected the scores, since higher income equals higher test scores. This year they canceled the test scores counting against teachers, in NY State.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

Anyone with a child in a public school who is unsure, should ask their child what they have been learning in school this week.  Also, why not visit your child's school for a day or so next week and the week after and the week after that?  Let us know if you like how your child is spending their days.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I am seriously thinking about opting my child out of standardized tests since they have been shown to be used more as a punishment against the teacher than as a true diagnostic tool. Furthermore, i would like to see independent research on how valid the tests are and if they are developmentally appropriate.

MauryL
MauryL

the ability to recall facts within a time pressured testing window is one indicator of knowledge and intelligence, but not the best indicator. Unfortunately, test scores are used predominantly as a measure of knowledge and intelligence for placement, admissions, etc.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I guess I am swimming against the current, but I do see value in the testing situation.  I think we have given too many tests, and used them without being thoughtful, but that is the nature of having something handed down to you without considerable input.


Using student tests to evaluate teachers does not pass the smell test UNLESS the student is highly motivated to show their best.  At this point, in our country, a large number of our students do NOT have  that motivation on their own.  You cannot adequately determine what a teacher has done by test scores of students who see no down side to just blowing off on the test, or students whose "other life" outside of school is chaotic, fearful, or full of adult negligence.


All through your life you are going to have situations where you are tested and the results used to determine something.  Students need to be taught how to, and have experience taking, tests that are pretty high stakes.  They need to learn what to watch for, how to read test questions and answers, how to narrow down answers.  They need to learn how to construct responses.  All these skills will help students go into testing situations in their adult life with more assurance, sense of pride, and sense of control.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady As usual, you're making sense. Parents who opt kids out of testing are limiting their future academic success.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik @Wascatlady And not just academic success. One high stakes test that almost every young person takes is the driver's license test. Another "test" is correctly reading directions for taking medicine--pretty high stakes!