testing season


An avocational educational historian and someone I admire is Jennifer Binis–she’s given me so much to consider and think about. One area where I sense I have some cognitive dissonance is understanding her position on state testing. From a few of her tweets, she suggested that the #optout movement was the domain of white, privileged suburban parents. (Jennifer, if I misinterpreted this I apologize in advice, and will edit accordingly.)

So, instead of picking apart or countering her points, I’m going to do some research on my own, and see if I can make sense or claims to the question: “Are standardized tests systemically racist?”

Articles on the history of racism in standardized testing:

The Racist Beginnings of Standardized Testinghttp://www.nea.org/home/73288.htm

History of Standardized Testing in the United States http://www.nea.org/home/66139.htm

Racial Bias Built into Tests https://www.fairtest.org/racial-bias-built-tests

Conclusion: Yes.

Opt-Out Movement

Now – the #optout movement. Her articles on this topic are clear and go deeper than our conversation on Twitter: https://jennbbinis.com/uncategorized/what-do-we-lose-due-to-opt-out-what-do-we-gain/

The “and then what” (Binis) is my question, too.

At some point, we’ll get around to better assessments like what’s happening in the NYS Performance Consortium, New Hampshire, or on the local-level across the country. At some point, we’ll move past multiple choice and get to what’s next.
The problem with what’s next is that the performance-based assessments pool is shallower. To be sure, there are structures, guidelines, protocols, and research around ensuring reliability, but the pool is not nearly as deep as it is for multiple choice.
In effect, what’s next is going to be messy as all get up. If the field doesn’t trust the subset of [the] field that designed the easier stuff using research-based practices, what’s going to happen in the next evolution? https://jennbbinis.com/uncategorized/vegetarian-butchers-unite/

Ultimately, I am wondering at my own experiences and discomfort. Speaking for myself, I know that not once have I ever been asked to make the current SBA accessible or transparent to my colleagues and more importantly to students. It’s been shrouded in secrecy and trauma. (Understand that though I wasn’t asked to share, I’ve taken it upon myself to design and share PD resources with the SBA, and will continue to do so.) The secrecy and lack of transparency is a form of systemic racism, no question of that in my mind. And so is the secrecy of the #optout movement. Was it begun by and large by white, suburban moms? I assume so because the message doesn’t go to the families I serve.*(see edit) The thought of #optingout of a standardized test is not shared with families whose children go to Title I schools, and teachers are absolutely and 100% censored from saying anything about the test in any form. The reprimand might even be career-ending.

And with no small amount of paranoia, and from my professional experience, I don’t want the test to be opted-out of, but I do want it to be as transparent and mastery-oriented as possible. I want it to be a valid assessment. I don’t want to waste hours of time and test-prep and students still walk away at the end of the year with few skills and hatred of reading. And I sure as heck don’t want an entire month carved out for testing. Even if the test is “only” 8 school days, the unintended consequences are students literally asking me, year after year, if they “have to do any more work” after May (school goes until the third week of June in the Pacific Northwest). Why can’t the assessment be broken down into quarterly targets? It is at my current district, but those assessments count as a grade, not THE BIG TEST. So by the time, we get to May, if we’ve completed narrative writing in November. and that’s the random writing question students receive in May, how much will they remember? And again, no notes, no posters, nothing on the walls, bare rooms, no help, no support nothing. Good luck, kid. Oh, you’ve been in the country for less than two years and it takes seven years to acquire a new language? Too bad. Oh, and school with 75% free and reduced lunch and a high ELL population – your scores are improving? Get rid of the admin team and keep trying.

So, back to my and Jennifer’s question: this is messy. So then what? Well, I guess that is my “then what.” Take the standards, make bite-sized, authentic assessments and collect the data in smaller frequencies. Kind of like what we teachers do all year long with our formative assessments, and if we have a functioning PLC with our Common Formative Assessments.

Maybe my bias is from the ELA/ELL worlds: this learning is a spiral, not a flat line. It’s not linear. The behemoth that is standardized testing must be stopped or made simpler. No student should have the idea that “school is over” once the big test is over. And that’s what this test has done.

Twitter and Voice 101 – worth a listen:


*Edit: Per Jennifer: “That is, modern (post 2012 movement) is the domain of white, suburban parents. The older movement – Chicago and NYC isn’t. This study gets into the demographics: https://www.tc.columbia.edu/media/news/docs/Opt_Out_National-Survey—-FINAL-FULL-REPORT.pdf …”


Jennifer sent me some other things to think about:


And his book: Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality

I am still questioning, however, (and not coming to any fast conclusions), whether or not the privileged parents who consider the ‘opt-out’ movement another layer of privilege are not seeing that the worst transgression is not advocating for all students and families to know this information. Many of my students and families don’t even know how to find the grade book on-line, much less understand their rights to opt-out. How about we start there?