Building a Social Media Campaign Around Standardized Testing (by Mike, Rachel, Troy, and Brandon)

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE! Our group hosted a social media campaign in order to bring more attention to issues in education that have implications on nearly every student in the public education system. The issue that we felt was most … Continue reading

Some thoughts on Standardized Testing from Steve Buel

I had the chance to chat with School Board member Steve Buel a couple weeks ago about his take on standardized testing in schools. He was a school teacher for many years before he found himself on the board, and has focused much of his energy on changing the education system and bringing more awareness to the side effects of high stakes testing. He has seen a lot of the changes in educational policy over the decades and one thing he wanted to point out to me is that standardized testing is nothing new, rather it is the condition of high stakes that has created all the issues we see today. He said that the problem is that is doesn’t really reflect what the kids are really learning. In classrooms today we see teachers “teaching to the test”, meaning that they are narrowing the curriculum to do so, and sending home worksheets to practice the test. This, however, does not teach the actual information of what is it that a child should know.
He went on to tell me more about state report cards, something that each school has to undergo, and part of it is rating the school on the testing from the year. Focus and priority schools, (a classification for those in the bottom 15 percent) have a team come out and do a school appraisal ( he said this costs about 800,000 dollars, however, I was unclear as to who pays this, or how accurate this number is) which includes interviews of all the faculty, and surveys of the parents. He noted that these reports are practically worthless, and in the reports they do not detail what is happening in school, but rather provide a ‘boiler plate’ where everyone gets the same information, rather than personalizing it to each school in order for them to see what exactly should be worked on in that particular school. He said that the best way to get out of being labeled a ‘priority school’ is to teach to the test, and the reality is that there is only a small amount of bribery and cheating.
The testing isn’t the problem, but there is a testing problem.
Covington Middle school, where he taught for many years, was number one in Washington in their economic group, then the state intervened and told them they needed to implement new curriculum, and was told by the school he needed to teach to the test in order to raise their scores. He tried to avoid doing so, but found he was continually falling behind, and had to start teaching what they wanted.

He sees the whole system as based upon the idea that it’s corporate education, proven by the fact that the government alone is making 350mil off of common core—money given from the government to the testing organization. People stand to make huge amounts of money off of this implementation if testing.

Steve is a founding member of Oregon Save Our Schools, a grassroots movement working to promote awareness and change around the corruption in the current education system. I asked him if he felt they had achieved any kind of real, and lasting change, and he replied that they had only succeeded in raising a kind of awareness, but no progress. He noted that they have helped in exposing a lot of programs that the governor is spending the tax payers money on, but because of our current system it is hard to really expose the corruption, due to the fact that all the big money is behind them, and they are able to sell their programs as if it is good for kids. He finds that most teachers don’t know as much about the underbelly of these programs because they simply do not have that kind of time to really dig deep into these issues and try to change it. Unless you really look, you don’t know, and everything can be branded as sounding pretty good.

Because there are so many daunting flaws in the system today, he feels that the only way to create real change is by trying to hurry it along to collapse, and only then will it all turn around.

The problem with many of these educators is that they grab something and go with it all the way, but learning is combinations of things, not one thing or another. He notes that there is no ‘common core’ that everyone should know and learn, and it is extremely difficult to decide what to leave out. Education is a zero sum game, and kids are only in school for a certain about of time, and these standards were and are created by people who have never been educators , yet are required of most public schools in the country.

He said that this system makes sense for people making money, but not really for anyone else; like a educational cult, they tell everyone how it should be done, and that it is the only way, but it is not an all or nothing thing.

Foundational skills (like reading, writing, grammar, basic geometry and fractions) are something everyone agrees on, but where they start to focus off is history. The difficulty is deciding what needs to be taught after the basic foundations, and this becomes a smorgasbord, and in reality this is how America has worked since its foundation. This is why we led the world in innovation, and we shouldn’t have all the children learning the same thing–which is where we are heading. Teachers need to teach to their strengths and be able to create interesting classes. We should love those teachers spending six seeks going deeper into issues and history, rather than three more kids scoring higher on a test. But in the end, there are no easy answers, and things are more complicated than having a set ordeal.Image

How School Works (Or Doesn’t): Standardized Testing pt. I

Hello PDX Education Action Network readers!

As a part of our Participating In Community Team Project, my group will be doing weekly blog posts on our individual efforts to learn more about standardized testing in our state. This blog series will come in four parts and will be posted to PDXEAN on Tuesdays. Team members include Megan Coleman, Rebecca Hamilton, Jen Watt, and Rocielle Perez.

Education Forum – Nov. 5, 2013

image_2 On November 5th, I attended a public education forum hosted by Beaverton Community for Education at Mountain View Middle School in Aloha, Oregon. On the panel for this forum were some of Oregon’s top leaders in education: Dr. Nancy Golden, Oregon Chief Education Officer; Rob Saxton, Deputy Superintendent for Public Instruction; Senator Mark Hass (D), Senator from Washington County and Chair of the Senate Committee on Education and General Government; Michael Elliot, Oregon Department of Educations Fiscal Analyst; and Dr. Jeff Rose, Superintendent of the Beaverton School District. Standards were a hot topic for the night, with extensive discussion on the transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the replacement of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) with the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Rob Saxton gave a presentation on state standards that was somewhat akin to an advertisement for CCSS; he is a huge advocate of the Common Core. For those of you who may not know much about the Common Core, here’s a basic list of what I learned from Mr. Saxton:

Common Core Facts

  • The Common Core State Standards Initiative was led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009.
  • The standards were developed by teachers, school administrators, and other experts in education. Drafts of the standards were open for public feedback and received nearly 10,000 responses.
  • CCSS was the work of the states; it was not federally mandated. 
  • Through a grant, 26 states put together a test designed to reflect the Common Core. In Oregon, this test will be called the Smarter Balanced assessment.
  • Smarter Balanced will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

Now, here are the reasons Rob Saxton presented on why many support and should support CCSS and Smarter Balanced:

The standards have been developed by experts.

The standards were a collaborative effort by the states. The Oregon Department of Education has been involved with the development of the Common Core since its initiation in 2009.

Students need to be college AND career ready.

Saxton expressed concern that the skill set of most graduating seniors are not up to par with what current colleges and employers demand. More and more, successful high school graduates go on to college only to test into rudimentary courses. Saxton claimed that the standards for college-preparedness and career-preparedness are not different; by having better, higher standards, students will be pushed to be ready for both.

Smarter Balanced will give us a better picture of what students know and will lead to better teaching.

The Smarted Balanced assessment, unlike OAKS, includes free-response questions. Since students must write and explain their understanding, teachers and parents will have a better idea of what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are. Supporters of CCSS advocate that students will need a deeper understanding in order to meet the Common Core, promoting student-centered teaching and reflective learning. Regarding teaching to the test, Saxton went on to say, “If it’s a good test, you should teach to it,” taking the position that we need to continue to strive for better tests in order to understand what students really know.

imageHowever, there is still a great deal of concern among the community.

From my experience with parents and teachers at the education forum and with a number of online education advocacy groups, I’ve compiled some of the reoccurring concerns with CCSS.

The Common Core State Standards have not been proven to be more effective than other standards.

Many are concerned that there is no evidence that these standards will do anything to help our students. CCSS were never implemented or tested in any actual schools and so there is no research-based evidence to support CCSS advocates’ positive claims.

The U.S. Federal Government is more involved with the spread of CCSS than advocates say.

Although CCSS was never federally funded or mandated, the U.S. Federal Government does seem to heavily promote the implementation of the Common Core. Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers are often rewarded to those districts that agree to the Common Core.

Smarter Balanced will cost more money.

During the Q&A portion of the forum, one parent asked about the cost of the new Smarter Balanced assessment. Due to the inclusion of free-response questions, Smarter Balanced will cost more to grade. The test will cost Oregon about $3 M more annually and the state is providing $4.6 M.

Fewer students will pass the Smarter Balanced Test and test scores will drop.

In states throughout the nation, test scores are dropping drastically due to the implementation of CCSS. For example, in North Carolina there was a nearly 27% drop in reading and mathematics proficiency among 3rd-8th graders from the 2011-2012 to the 2012-2013 school year. Rob Saxton himself admitted due to the higher standards, fewer students are expected to pass Smarter Balanced.

Is this a reflection of poor learning or a poor test?

Standards are not the answer to our problems.

Ultimately, many are concerned that standards will not fix the issues we have in education. How can teachers be expected to implement pages of new standards without time for preparation/training and with the growing class sizes in our state? It isn’t feasible to simply ask more of our schools without providing any additional resources for success. Additionally, higher standards do not address the needs of those subject to the opportunity gap. Suffering students need access to greater support, not just higher standards.


At the end of the forum, Dr. Jeff Rose commented on the Common Core. He said that the implementation of Common Core is something that will happen but in the end, standards are just standards. We need to focus less on finding the right standards and more on how we can really help our students. He said, “Standards are not the answer. CCSS will not reduce the achievement gap; that’s up to us. That’s up to parents and teachers and people in the community.”

On many levels, I agree with that statement. Though I feel the government needs to take action and reduce the emphasis of standardized testing in our education system, I realize nothing will happen until they hear the voice of people in the community.

Through this experience, I have been pushed to learn more, to be proactive, and to speak out my concerns and beliefs. I hope that we all, as advocates of our youth, challenge ourselves to be engaged in our communities and to be a part of the change we want to see.

Taking a Stand on Standardized Testing (by Guest Blogger Maryann Burton)

It is absolutely time that we take a stand on the standardized testing for school assessment system. As students and administrators in Seattle rally together to put an end to evaluating schools and teachers based on tests that were not intended for this purpose. Portland Public Schools and the Student Unions are following the footsteps of the courageous Garfield High School in Seattle and asking that all high schools in Portland opt-out of taking the standardized test this year.

The tests are an expensive waste of money. They do nothing but put more strain and stress on students and faculties; the results of these state standardized tests are not even looked at by colleges and universities when applying for admissions! PPS and the Student Unions are pushing for change, and in true social justice fashion, they are raising awareness of the fact that it is the system of assessment that needs to be changed—not the teachers administering the assessments.

So let’s stand behind these individuals, let’s make ALL of our schools look like they are “in need of improvement” so that we can focus on improving our means of assessing how a school or teacher is performing. Let’s get back to a time when attention could be paid to the individual student’s needs and direct ourselves away from spending precious time and money on assessments not worth their weight in accuracy.

Note: Maryann Burton is a student in the Educational Equity Capstone at Portland State University.  This course is facilitated by Deb Smith-Arthur. Thank you for joining us, Maryann!

MAPping the Way to a Better Tomorrow: Standardized Testing at Seattle’s Garfield High (by Guest Blogger Erik Brigham)

A number of teachers from Garfield High School in Seattle Washington are refusing to give students a standardized test, also known as the Measures of Academy Progress or MAP.  The boycott of the exam has been over-ridden by the superintendent … Continue reading

Asian Students Don’t Deserve Praise? (by Guest Blogger Wen Li)

Note: This post was written in response to a recent NY Times article titled “For Asians, School Tests are Vital Stepping Stones” (written by Kyle Spencer). The attached article illustrates a good example of hard working Asian students, and in … Continue reading