Why Delinking Graduation from the Smarter Balanced Assessment & Other Tests is the Right Thing to Do.

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I am writing to encourage everyone who values the 13 years of hard work completed by students as they reach their senior year to call their state legislators. My request is simple: ask your legislator to pass HB 1046. This bill will serve to delink all high stakes testing requirements in all subjects from high school graduation.

While this bill does not eliminate the state tests, it DOES eliminate the high stakes attached to these tests, which is a big step forward in supporting students whose futures have been severely damaged by high stakes testing.

In 2013, Seattle Times writer Donna Blankenship notified her readers about some stark facts tied to the state’s End of Course Math tests:

“But that doesn’t make life any easier for the nearly 7,000 students in the Class of 2013 who have yet to pass the newly required math test and didn’t get their diplomas last month.”

2013 was the first year the state required students to pass an end of course math test in order to graduate and earn their diploma.

This got me thinking. Since 2013, how many students in Washington State have been denied a diploma for failing a high stakes tests required for graduation? I don’t see the numbers posted clearly anywhere, despite the state’s creation of these high stakes.

It gets worst. In 2017-18, students will  be required to pass three high stakes tests in order to receive their diplomas, per OSPI:

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I wrote OSPI and asked them about the number of students who will be denied a diploma because of end of course tests required by the state. After all, we know approximately 7,000 students were denied graduation in 2013 because of one math test. What will happen when three tests are required?

Hello OSPI Communications and Community Outreach,

I have a question about SHB1046. Does OSPI have an estimate of how many students will fail to graduate if testing is not delinked from graduation, please?  How many failed to graduate last year due to testing?

Thank you kindly, Susan DuFresne

OSPI’s  response:

“As of late April, there were 15,645 students in the Class of 2017 who had not met the assessment graduation requirements.  Students are required to pass an assessment – or a graduation alternative – in each of the three subject areas ELA, math, and science.  The 15,645 number includes students who may have passed 0, 1, or 2 of the requirements, but haven’t met all 3.  Also note that these numbers only reflect their status with respect to the assessment grad requirements; it does not include information about whether the student has met other graduation requirements such as credits.”

15,645 students in Washington State are at risk of being denied graduation after investing 13 years of their lives in school.  In years past, a child attended 13 years of school, received passing or failing grades by their professional educators, earned their credits, and graduated with their diploma.

Shannon Ergun, ESL 9-12 Mt Tahoma High School, Tacoma Public Schools is highly concerned about the undue stress level these high stakes create for students and she states:

“I estimate based on there being 1.1 million students in WA that there are 70K-75K seniors that means that about 20% of current seniors are waiting on test scores to know if they can walk at graduation in 4-5 weeks. That is an inappropriate level of stress for a 17 or 28 year old to carry while still faced with AP exams, final exams, and final plans for beyond high school.

Until large numbers of kids are actually impacted everyone will continue to believe it will all be ok.”

I think Shannon makes a great point: What about the ordeal our kids experience just by taking these high stakes tests, knowing graduation is on the line? As adults, it’s sometimes easier to ignore rather than face the pressure these tests place on our kids.

For instance, did you know some students find these tests so stressful there’s an actual protocol for what to do should a student vomit on a test? That’s a lot of pressure. When was the last time you vomited at work over the pressure you felt to perform? I’m guessing this would be a highly unusual occurrence, not likely covered by a particular protocol in the employee handbook.

And what’s the message we’re sending to those kids born without the very particular gift of being a good test takers? You only have value if you can score high on a standardized test?

The State Board of Education is offering a compromise solution: delinking the biology end of course exam, while continuing to use the other end of year course exams as graduation requirements.

Why would it be acceptable to offer a deal to 3,302 students but leave 12,343 behind?

As an educator, I want ALL students who have otherwise completed their graduation requirements based on grades and credits earned to receive their diplomas – despite failing one or more of any of the three high stakes tests imposed by the state.

And what happens to the chances of bright futures for those left behind?

High school exit exams contribute greatly to the school-to-prison pipeline as noted here by FairTest:

“High school exit exams (FairTest, 2008) push many thousands of students out of school. As a result of these factors, urban graduation rates decreased. Some students see no realistic option other than dropping out; some are deliberately pushed out or fail the tests. Either way, these young people are much more likely to end up in trouble or in prison. One study found that high school exit exams increase incarceration rates by 12.5 percent (Baker & Lang, 2013).”

Sadly, youth who are unable to acquire a diploma are often relegated to minimum wage employment, live with state support through DSHS, or become homeless. In 2012, for example, DSHS reported that 69% of their “Opportunity Youth” did not have a high school diploma.

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And what about earnings for youth who do not receive a high school diploma?

“The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF). That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

PBS Frontline reports in Dropout Nation by Jason Breslow and per the 2012 US Census here:

“The challenges hardly end there, particularly among young dropouts. Among those between the ages of 18 and 24, dropouts were more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty according to the Department of Education. Dropouts experienced a poverty rate of 30.8 percent, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 13.5 percent.

Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates, according to a study (PDF) by researchers at Northeastern University. “


Are we OK with throwing away the futures of kids who are unable to perform on high stakes tests – after they’ve devoted 13 years of hard work to their education? What message does this send to kids about hard work when it doesn’t payoff and they end up rejected by the system.

What if OSPI was required to report how many students have been denied graduation due to high stakes testing each year? What if our US Department of Education had to file a yearly report which focused on the living conditions of each state’s youth denied a diploma due to high stakes tests?

Perhaps outraged parents, educators, and students would rise up and stop the high stakes testing; the state’s means to punish children, educators, and schools would be lost forever.

By delinking ALL high stakes tests from graduation we can protect thousands of students in Washington from being denied their rightfully earned diploma for simply missing a few questions on a test.

Also by delinking these tests from graduation requirements, we will also save our state between $9-$11 million dollars. Money that could be better spent on actual teaching vs testing.

Call 1-800-562-6000 and ask your legislators to protect our students by delinking high stakes testing from graduation – vote YES on SHB1046! Delink them all! Give our youth the bright futures they deserve!

-Susan DuFresne – Integrated Kindergarten Teacher with General Education and Special Education endorsements – 7 years in the Renton School District, Teacher of Professional Conscience, Co-Owner of the Opt Out Bus, Social Equality Educator, Artist, progressive and social justice education activist, unionist, mother and grandmother – The views I express are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. #FreeSpeech


The ESSA and opting out of the SBAC


Some state departments of education have threatened to withhold a high school diploma if a student doesn’t take and pass a so-called college readiness test in grade 11. However, no state legislature has passed a statute linking the award of a high school diploma to passing a state or federal mandated college readiness test in grade 11 (and it’s highly unlikely any legislature would).

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was replaced in December, 2015 with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

This new Federal mandate was written to replace the No Child Left Behind Act. The main concerns that Carolyn and I have with ESSA are:

For greater detail on the ESSA, Mercedes Schneider has done a brilliant job of combing through the law and commenting on each aspect of the Federal Act.

About opting out of the Common Core testing, the state of New York in the spring increased their opt out numbers from 20% to 22%. There have been threats and pushback since the opt out numbers came out with the Federal government pressuring New York to come up with forms of punishment for districts who do not adhere to the 95% participation rate but as Sandra Stotsky points out, no state  has been penalized by withholding Title I money and passing a mandated standardized test to graduate from high school needs to be put into law by the state legislature to be legitimate.

We also need to keep in mind that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has yet to be determined to be reliable and valid as an assessment of students’ understanding of subjects taught.

To follow is a repost of the article in full:

Opting out: A civic duty, not civil disobedience

The writers who crafted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the 2015 bill co-sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), thought they had worded an airtight case to prevent parents from removing their children from federal mandated testing.

States are responsible for ensuring a 95 percent participation rate of all its K-12 students in exchange for ESSA funds. If the rate is less than 95 percent, the US Secretary of Education has several options. Most allow USED to help the state come up with a plan to address the matter. In effect, ESSA turns state departments of education into school bullies.

Indeed, many state departments of education have begun to rattle their sabers, trying to bluff parents into believing that parents who opt their kids out of a federally mandated test and reduce overall participation to less than 95 percent thereby place the state at risk of not getting the money coming to it for its low-income kids. It remains to be seen how effective this version of a guilt trip will be. In the meantime, some bureaucrats are busy trying to figure out how to make the punishment fit the crime.

Some state departments of education have threatened to withhold a high school diploma if a student doesn’t take and pass a so-called college readiness test in grade 11. However, no state legislature has passed a statute linking the award of a high school diploma to passing a state or federal mandated college readiness test in grade 11 (and it’s highly unlikely any legislature would).

Without such a statute in place, state departments of education cannot make local school boards withhold a high school diploma from students who have met other, legal requirements for a high school diploma. And if a grade 11 test is called a high school exit test, it raises serious questions about USED’s recent decision to let states use the SAT or ACT for an accountability purpose. These tests are known as only college admissions tests, NOT achievement tests or high school exit tests. Moreover, they cannot be constructed validly for more than one of these purposes.

In addition, USED itself sent 13 states a letter in November or December 2015 telling them that they needed to address high opt-out rates throughout the state or in specific school districts. The letter helpfully included possible examples of how states could act, such as lowering a school or district’s rating on state accountability systems, and counting non-participating students as not proficient for accountability purposes.

Opt-outs are the Achilles Heel of federal attempts via mandated Common Core-aligned testing to get very low-achieving students into college and to lower above-average student achievement in order to close demographic gaps. The more opt-outs there are, the less valid are any tests aligned to Common Core’s standards, and the less control federal and state policy makers have over the content of the school curriculum.

It has become difficult to remember that the central purpose of ESEA was to improve the education of low-income children. Civil Rights organizations immediately bought into the first authorization of ESEA in 1965, believing that targeting the education of low-income students with federal money would improve their education. But these organizations have steadfastly hewed to this position for over 50 years despite the fact that low-income kids’ scores have shown almost no improvement on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests since their inception in the early 1970s, and despite the research showing little relationship between student achievement and spending for schools or per/student.

Will making states responsible for reducing opt-outs be effective and, if so, improve the education of low-income kids? All USED could say in its warning letter to the 13 states with high opt-out rates was that full student participation in its mandated assessments would provide “better information” to parents and teachers. Better than what? Is it the case that our teachers are incapable of discerning students who can read and write from those who can’t? What kind of information did PARCC or SBAC provide in 2015 that was more useful for instruction than information teachers had already gleaned from their own observations and tests?

After 50 years and billions of dollars, it is clear that increased regulations and more testing for all students in K-12 isn’t the answer.

If Common Core’s standards and tests are, as it is claimed, so much better than whatever schools were using before, why not use them only for low-achieving, low-income kids and let them catch up? Why can’t Congress amend ESSA to exempt students already at or above grade level in reading and mathematics and target ESSA funds to curriculum materials, teachers, and tests for just the kids who need a boost? That’s just the beginning. Maybe a different use of federal money is also needed.

We have no explanation from USED of why earlier incarnations of ESEA have been so fruitless. Nor do we know why Congress has been unwilling to demand accountability from its own policy-making education agencies, or why governors haven’t demanded accountability from their own education policy-making boards and departments? That’s where accountability needs to begin, not with teachers.


Sandra Stotsky is a former Senior Associate Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education and is Professor of Education emerita at the University of Arkansas.


For more on the SBAC and its validity, rather, the lack thereof, see:

SBAC Tests Show No Validity or Reliability

Pearson and others are exploiting our children by using them to establish the validity, or lack thereof, of the SBAC



Study shows the Common Core PARCC test does not determine college readiness

Is the SBAC any different?

The PARCC tests have been criticized for being administered in high-stakes circumstances before they were validated. PARCC’s rejoinder is they had content validity, meaning that the test was built according to their committee reviewed specifications. But what is missing is predictive validity. That is, does the test validly measure the much vaunted touchstone criteria of “College and Career Ready?” After all, that is the entire rationale for the testing emphasis in schools.

The following is an article posted in Wait! What? that breaks down the study.


The Common Core PARCC tests gets an “F” for Failure

By Wendy Lecker and Jonathan Pelto

The entire premise behind the Common Core and the related Common Core PARCC and SBAC testing programs was that it would provide a clear cut assessment of whether children were “college and career ready.”

In the most significant academic study to date, the answer appears to be that the PARCC version the massive and expensive test is that it is an utter failure.

William Mathis, Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center and member of the Vermont State Board of Education, has just published an astonishing piece in the Washington Post. (Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid? In it, Mathis demonstrates that the PARCC test, one of two national common core tests (the other being the SBAC), cannot predict college readiness; and that a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education demonstrated the PARCC’s lack of validity.

This revelation is huge and needs to be repeated. PARCC, the common core standardized test sold as predicting college-readiness, cannot predict college readiness. The foundation upon which the Common Core and its standardized tests were imposed on this nation has just been revealed to be an artifice.

As Mathis wrote, the Massachusetts study found the following: the correlations between PARCC ELA tests and freshman GPA ranges from 0.13-0.26, and for PARCC Math tests, the range is between 0.37 and 0.40. Mathis explains that the correlation coefficients “run from zero (no relationship) to 1.0 (perfect relationship). How much one measure predicts another is the square of the correlation coefficient. For instance, taking the highest coefficient (0.40), and squaring it gives us .16. “

This means the variance in PARCC test scores, at their best, predicts only 16% of the variance in first year college GPA.  SIXTEEN PERCENT!  And that was the most highly correlated aspect of PARCC.  PARCC’s ELA tests have a correlation coefficient of 0.17, which squared is .02. This number means that the variance in PARCC ELA scores can predict only 2% of the variance in freshman GPA!

Dr. Mathis notes that the PARCC test-takers in this study were college freshman, not high school students. As he observes, the correlations for high school students taking the test would no doubt be even lower. (Dr. Mathis’ entire piece is a must-read. Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid?)

Dr. Mathis is not an anti-testing advocate. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, Director of its Educational Assessment program, a design consultant for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and for six states.   As managing director for NEPC, Dr. Mathis produces and reviews research on a wide variety of educational policy issues. Previously, he was Vermont Superintendent of the Year and a National Superintendent of the Year finalist before being appointed to the state board of education. He brings expertise to the topic.

As Mathis points out, these invalid tests have human costs:

“With such low predictability, you have huge numbers of false positives and false negatives. When connected to consequences, these misses have a human price. This goes further than being a validity question. It misleads young adults, wastes resources and misjudges schools.  It’s not just a technical issue, it is a moral question. Until proven to be valid for the intended purpose, using these tests in a high stakes context should not be done.”

PARCC is used in  New Jersey, Maryland and other states, not Connecticut. So why write about this here, where we use the SBAC?

The SBAC has yet to be subjected to a similar validity study.  This raises several questions.  First and most important, why has the SBAC not be subjected to a similar study? Why are our children being told to take an unvalidated test?

Second, do we have any doubt that the correlations between SBAC and freshman college GPA will be similarly low?  No- it is more than likely that the SBAC is also a poor predictor of college readiness.

How do we know this? The authors of the PARCC study shrugged off the almost non-existent correlation between PARCC and college GPA by saying the literature shows that most standardized tests have low predictive validity.

This also bears repeating: it is common knowledge that most standardized tests cannot predict academic performance in college.  Why , then, is our nation spending billions developing and administering new tests, replacing curricula, buying technology, text books and test materials, retraining teachers and administrators, and misleading the public by claiming that these changes will assure us that we are preparing our children for college?

And where is the accountability of these test makers, who have been raking in billions, knowing all the while that their “product” would never deliver what they promised, because they knew ahead of time that the tests would not be able to predict college-readiness?

When then-Secretary Arne Duncan was pushing the Common Core State Standards and their tests on the American public, he maligned our public schools by declaring: “For far too long,” our school systems lied to kids, to families, and to communities. They said the kids were all right — that they were on track to being successful — when in reality they were not even close.” He proclaimed that with Common Core and the accompanying standardized tests, “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.”

Mr. Duncan made this accusation even though there was a mountain of evidence proving that the best predictor of college success, before the Common Core, was an American high school GPA.  In other words, high schools were already preparing kids for college quite well.

With the revelations in this PARCC study and the admissions of its authors, we know now that it was Mr. Duncan and his administration who were lying to parents, educators, children and taxpayers. Politicians shoved the Common Core down the throat of public schools with the false claim that this regime would improve education.  They forced teachers and schools to be judged and punished based on these tests.  They told millions of children they were academically unfit based on these tests. And now we have proof positive that these standardized tests are just as weak as their predecessors, and cannot in any way measure whether our children are “college-ready.”

The time is now for policymakers to stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of school hours, on a useless standardized testing scheme;   and to instead invest our scarce public dollars in programs that actually ensure that public schools are have the capacity to support and prepare students to have more fulfilling and successful lives.


Seattle Public School Board votes to pursue alternative to SBAC under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Seattle Public Schools logo


In a five to one vote with Stephan Blanford giving the lone “No” vote, the Seattle School Board passed a resolution ,sponsored by Directors Sue Peters and Rick Burke, in favor of requesting the state to provide an alternative summative test to the SBAC based on the newly authorized ESSA. The request is to use a locally selected alternative summative assessment framework to measure achievement and student growth.

This is the wording of the request:

School Board Resolution

To follow is a video of the discussion regarding the resolution before the vote was taken:

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

In the background info about diversity of the school district, the total percentage of students of color should read 54.4% not 38.5%.

We are asking the OSPI State Superintendent candidates their position on opting out


The following letter was sent to each candidate for Superintendent of Public instruction. Their responses will be published on May 1st. -editor.

Hello Candidates,

My name is Carolyn Leith and I am co-editor of the blog Seattle Education.

At a recent Seattle School Board Director’s Meeting, Superintendent Nyland shared information with the board about communication the district had received from OSPI concerning the Smarter Balanced Assessment currently being administered in Seattle’s schools.

In the letter, OSPI informed SPS that 40 schools had fallen below the 95% participation rate. Now these schools are required to create an enforcement plan to improve participation rates. From the letter:

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I’m asking each candidate to make a statement concerning OSPI’s actions.

Statement will be:

  • no more than 500 words in length
  • published, unedited, in a separate blog post – so all candidates will receive equal attention
  • (please include campaign photo )

The deadline for submission is 10 PM on April 30th. Statements will be published on May 1st.

Thanks for your time. I look forward to your response.

-Carolyn Leith

Background information below:

School Board Meeting

Letter from OSPI to Superintendent Nyland

Tests and testing in Seattle: Do you know how many tests your student takes in one year?

testing on computer

The answer is “probably not”. No one within the Seattle Public School District, besides School Board Director Sue Peters, seems to be concerned or be able to accurately report to the board the number of tests that our students take let alone the time it takes away from a regular school day to administer the standardized tests.

Below are the tests that your students take. We have not even gotten to the cost of preparing for, setting up computers and IT for, teachers time for, librarians time for and library and computer time for providing these tests.

Here’s the skinny.

Micheal Tolley, who was asked by School Board Director Peters to provide the information on how  many  standardized testes were given to our students and the hours needed to complete the tests, was not completely forthcoming in the number of standardized tests administered or the time it takes for students to complete the tests. Another aspect of this testing is how many hours the library and/or computer lab is closed during the testing, this can be up to two months as teachers, parents and students can attest, or how many hours of class time is lost to shortened class schedules and late start times.

Buried in a memo that was provided to the school board, Tolley inaccurately portrays, and I am saying this in a most polite manner, a minimum amount of time taken to compete the tests as well as the number of tests. He says there are only a few tests given to our students but alas, there are more. Did he not think someone might notice eventually? I suppose that’s why it was buried in a memo.

Mr. Tolley, by the way, is a remnant of the Broad Foundation/Goodloe-Johnson era when our Broad superintendent brought with her from Charleston the Chief Financial Officer, “I’ll get back to you on that”, Don Kennedy and Michael Tolley to do her bidding in Seattle after leaving her superintendent position in Charleston. Tolley has been faithfully kowtowing to the ed reformers since then and continues even after Goodloe-Johnson was fired by the school board. I suppose old habits die hard.

To set the record straight, let’s see how many standardized tests your students are given and the number of times they are administered in a school year.

Kindergarten (Yes people, kindergarten)                                                                                                              



Teaching Strategies GOLD- Fall

Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)-Spring

Kindergarten Assessment- Winter and Spring


First Grade


DRAFall, Winter and Spring


Second Grade



DRA – Fall and Spring

Amplify in selected schools*


Third Grade

DRA- Fall, Winter and Spring

SBAC-Reading and Writing

Reading and Math MSP

Beacon/Amplify (The Amplify contract is being continued in fifty schools but is not being expanded to additional schools.)


Fourth Grade


MSP- Reading, writing and math

DRA- Fall, Winter and Spring


Fifth Grade

MSP- Reading, math and science

DRA- Fall, Winter and Spring

CBA- Health and Fitness (PE)

CBA- Social Studies

Music- CPBA

Visual Arts CBA




Sixth Grade



MSP- Reading and math

Common Reading Assessment- Baseline and Mid-year

Common Writing Assessment- Baseline and mid-year


Seventh Grade

Common Reading Assessment- Baseline and Mid year

MSP- Reading, writing and math




Eighth Grade



MSP- Reading, math and Science

EOC- Biology, Geometry and Algebra

CBA- Health and Fitness

CBA- Social Studies

CBA- Visual Arts

Common Reading Assessment- Baseline and mid-year

Common Writing Assessment – Mid-year

 *I added Amplify to the second grade list because I just received a report that at least one school had to give the test to their second graders.

High School

Common Reading Assessment- Baseline and mid-year

Common Writing Assessment – Mid-year

CBA- Health and Fitness- 9th grade

Beacon/Amplify- 9th grade

Common Reading Assessment- 10th grade- Baseline and mid-year

ELA Exit exam- 10th grade

PSAT- 10th grade

SBAC –  11th grade

SAT- 11th grade

CBA- Social Studies- 12th grade Government


All high school grades:

Reading HSPE

Writing HSPE

CPBA- Music

CBA- Visual Arts

End Of Course (EOC) exam- Math and Science

College Math Placement Test


ELL Students



Teachers have opened up to me and others and shared the experiences that happened during the the SBAC testing period this year.

These are some of the highlights.

  • Testing labs and libraries were closed from March until June in some schools because of the testing.
  • There were computer crashes for various reasons so many students had to take the test over again after waiting for the IT problem to be fixed. They had to sit in their seats quietly while this happened.
  • Some students didn’t know how to use a mouse because they don’t have a computer at home.
  • The test sometimes took up to three hours for nine year olds. They could go to the bathroom but that was it. (Is this at all starting to sound inhumane?)
  • Students would give nonsense answers just to get through the tests which invalidates the test.
  • According to one teacher, one of their ELL students took over an hour to answer one question because they didn’t understand the term “product” in a math question.
  • Some schools are using tablets to take the SBAC as opposed to a PC which means the interface with the test can be entirely different.
  • Students have to navigate between three different windows during the test which means only those with the most sophisticated experiences on a computer will be able to successfully at least understand the question and how to provide an answer.

These reasons and others are why there has been such a high failure rate around the country with the SBAC and concomitant PARC test. They are not ready for prime time.

The worst of it is that the results of the SBAC will not be available until August at the earliest so teachers will not be able to use the information for their students, if they can understand what the numbers mean. Another issue is the students, teachers and parents will not have access to the questions or answers so of what value in all of this testing?

The SBAC has not been deemed reliable or valid. The SBAC Consortium has stated that the validity of the tests will only happen after the test is given and the results are in. That’s why there was so much pressure placed on parents and teachers to make sure the students took the test. They needed the results to validate the test. If more than 5% of the students opt out of the test, the test can not be deemed reliable or valid. That is using our students as the testing consortium’s guinea pigs.

Basically it’s millions of dollars down the drain. The money would have been better spent on more teachers for smaller class sizes, nurses in every school and guidance counselors for high school students, librarians in every school, counselors for troubled children and their families, after school enrichment programs that up to now are only available in schools that have PTA’s that can raise the money, tutoring… the list goes on.

This fall, ask your principal for a complete list of all the standardized tests that your student will take, how many weeks your library or computer lab will be closed because of it and how many late start days there will be or shortened class periods. The answer, if it is forthright, just might surprise you.

If your school gave standardized tests that are not listed above to a respective grade, please let me know and I will add it to the list.

I will leave you with this video.

Dora Taylor

High-Stakes Testing is a Social Justice Issue

And here is why.


5 Reasons Why High-Stakes Testing Is a Social Justice Issue

by Jon Greenberg and Gerardine Carroll

Few things please parents more than learning that their children are invigorated about and engaged in their education, perhaps deconstructing the representation of women through a media literacy unit or trying Columbus for possible crimes against humanity – activities that represent education at its best.

Unfortunately, however, too many students are coming home from school deflated, defeated, and disillusioned.


The high-stakes testing season is in full swing.

What are high-stakes tests?

Tests are considered high-stakes when they are tied to major consequences, such as graduation.

But this year’s season is anything but business as usual. Instead, we are experiencing the largest revolt against high-stakes testing ever, as historic numbers of families from New York to Seattle opt their children out, refusing to subject them to what is too often education at its worst.

The revolt has even recruited Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver, who let loose an 18-minute barrage against standardized testing.

Why are so many people are opting out?

1. High-Stakes Test Scores Correlate More with Socioeconomic Status Than Student Learning

As teachers, it’s a tough truth to swallow that our brilliant teaching isn’t the primary driver of our students’ test scores.

In reality, a far bigger predictor of student success is socioeconomic status – and guess who’s most likely to fail high-stakes tests.

Low-income students, of course.

And which students are overrepresented in the ranks of the poor? Students of Color, Special Education Students, English Language Learners, to name a few – all of whom the public education system has historically underserved, a euphemism for shittily served.

Courtesy of taxpayers’ dollars, these students now have a new hurdle.

In Washington and 27 other states, this new obstacle has one of two names: The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiblah Blah College Blah (PAARC), both of which tie passing to high school graduation. The SBAC markets its test as a tool to “improve instruction and help students succeed.”

More likely, it will serve as a sifter to sort primarily Brown and Black students directly into the school-to-prison pipeline.

After all, students pushed out of the public schools, inaccurately called “drop-outs,” are far more likely to end up incarcerated. (This result is not so surprising if you dig into the history of standardized testing, which is linked to the eugenics movement.)

In fact, one recent study showed that students who fail exams linked to graduation are 12.5% more likely to be incarcerated.

Maybe your child does not the fit the profile for such sifting and will unlikely land in jail. Maybe your bank account indicates that your child is destined to wear a high-test score with pride.

Unfortunately, in allowing that outfit, you are colluding with a system that perpetuates inequality, inequality that comes color-coded.

2. High-Stakes Tests Hijack and Derail Student Learning

Color-coded sifting begins early, when children should be learning through play, not multiple-choice bubbles. But in the world of high-stakes testing, play becomes a privilege denied to many Black and Brown children.

Schools are increasingly cutting recess time, not to mention lunch time and arts opportunities, for such students and replacing it with test-prep and testing – even though research tells us that recess actually helps academics.

And though the SBAC website has a whole page devoted to supporting “under-represented students,” many low-income students who rely on their computer lab or library for computer access are denied entry because the spaces are reserved for testing, ultimately increasing inequities.

In contrast, students in the advanced tracked classes – overwhelmingly White and wealthy – sometimes have the (White) privilege to skip entirely standardized tests (though not high-stakes ones) that fill up the computer lab’s schedule for weeks of the standard 180-day school year.

But even if you and your child are the ones reaping the benefits of an education system in which Black and Brown people are systematically fucked over based on multiple measures – push-out rates, overrepresentation in discipline, underrepresentation in advanced classes – it’s still in your own self interest to understand the proliferation of testing.

In More Than a Score, teacher and author Jesse Hagopian cites a 2013 study revealing that in 2013, students spent up to 50 hours each year taking standardized tests. Testing gobbles up so much class time that Florida passed a law capping the amount of standardized testing at 45 hours. Phew.

As a parent, you might prefer that your child spend that time actually learning – especially when you dig deeper into the reliability of these tests.

3. High-Stakes Tests Lack Proven Validity

According to the Huffington Post, at least one state’s education department has openly confirmed that “the tests administered in the state have not been demonstrated to be either reliable or valid.”

Other experts have reached this same conclusion.

Nevertheless, Washington State is currently demanding that tens of thousands of juniors take the SBAC, even though it won’t affect their graduation in its inaugural year (turning the high-stakes test, for many, into an expensive no-stakes waste of time).

Beginning with Nathan Hale High Schoolat which 100% of juniors refused the teststudents across Seattle are revolting.

At other Seattle schools, it isn’t a revolt. It’s a “meltdown.”

Teachers across the district – who the Seattle superintendent has threatened with harsh discipline if they fail to administer the SBAC – report struggles logging in, finding translations for English Language Learners, and even administering the correct test.

Furthermore, the test clearly calls for some serious computer literacy – requiring students to “navigate confusing split screens; drag, drop, and highlight; and type extended responses” – setting up those with less computer access for failure.

So much for supporting “underrepresented students.”

4. High-Stakes Testing Allows for the Misuse of Test Scores

States and districts increasingly use testing to evaluate teachers, a methodology based on questionable research at best (and leading to the Atlanta cheating “scandal,” which Jon Stewart finds remarkably similar to Wall Street’s financial meltdown of 2008 – except the wealthy of Wall Street faced no jail time).

The students who will take this year’s tests are a completely different group from those who will take it next year. Thus, one year the test scores might indicate a teacher is “highly effective,” and the next year, a new group of students’ scores might indicate a struggling teacher.

Did such a teacher suddenly lose skills over one year? Of course not.

Edward Haertel of Stanford University says using tests scores to evaluate teachers is “sorting mostly on noise” because of the tests’ unreliability and inconsistency.

Because low-test scores track with poverty rates, teachers of poor students and students of Color are more likely to be rated ineffective and forced out. As a result, their students’ educations will be disrupted by a revolving door that deposits inexperienced teachers in their classrooms yearly.

Thus, high-stakes testing encourages interruption and disruption for the very same students who need continuity and stability the most.

The education “reform” movement pushes the business model that shutters those schools deemed ineffective based on low-test scores, schools filled with Black and Brown children. (And failure is the goal. Not one state met the goals set by No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush’s stab at education “reform.”)

And who benefits from the closure of these neighborhood fixtures? Charter schools run by private organizations, both for-profit and non-profit.

These charter schools can exempt themselves from employing mostly unionized labor with decent pay and job protections. In fact, only about 12% of charter schools are unionized.

Worse yet, studies show charter schools seldom outperform traditional public schools. In 2009, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that only 17% of charters outperformed traditional schools, while 37% performed worse.

Poor test scores, therefore, become tools to bust unions, to close schools that anchor neighborhoods, and to use public money often for private gain but with no gain in student learning. 

But don’t take our word for it. Just ask former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, who argues that the high-stakes testing movement is designed for exactly those very purposes.

And, again, even if your child is not attending a school likely to be closed, your taxpayer dollars are still supporting this movement.

5. High-Stakes Testing Squanders Millions

The price tag for these tests that have proven to be so damaging is about the only thing decadent about public education.

SBAC pegs the cost of each test at $27.30 per student, a seemingly low price. This low number looks a little different when you consider that last year in Washington State there were about 82,500 10th graders.

That’s a price tag of $2,252,250 – for just one grade. These tests are also slated for all students in grades 3-8 in states that have signed on to them.

Even SBAC itself cautions relying on its per test estimate. After all, that number doesn’t include key costs, such as tech support, test-coordinators, school counselors, and librarians, many of whom must now direct their times and energy to testing instead of student learning.

Could you think of anywhere that $2.2 million could be better spent? More field trips to connect students with their communities. Expanded arts experiences. More counseling services.

Any other ideas?

It’s unlikely you’ll answer that question with “A new test!”


We all recognize that $2.2 million is a great deal of money. To the corporate “education” “reformers” who are driving high-stakes testing, such an amount is loose change.

People like Bill Gates have spent millions and millions to promote the standards on which these tests are based. (For compelling critiques of the these standards, click here and here.)

These individuals are the very same ones pushing for charter schools. Right under our noses, a handful of wealthy elite is trying to put public education on the market.

It’s up to you if you are going to let them.

As teacher Jesse Hagopian has pointed out, the same wealthy elite who orchestrate the proliferation of high-stakes testing have opted out their own children by sending them to private schools, which never have to waste time on state standards and high-stakes tests.

Instead, these expensive private schools have the privilege to create meaningful and authentic assessments. Such assessments don’t need to be limited to the elite, however. Some of these have been developed by the public, high-achieving New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has been waiving standardized tests since 1997.

These are the assessments we all should demand. These are the assessments all children deserve.

There’s a revolution afoot. Which side are you on?


Jon Greenberg is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He is an award-winning public high school teacher in Seattle who has gained broader recognition for standing up for racial dialogue in the classroom — with widespread support from community — while a school district attempted to stifle it. To learn more about Jon Greenberg and the Race Curriculum Controversy, visit his website, citizenshipandsocialjustice.com. You can also follow him on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter @citizenshipsj

Gerardine Carroll, a National Board Certified Teacher, has 26 years of experience in both Catholic and public schools. In addition, she served as an adjunct instructor for six years in the School of Education at Seattle University.