My daughters just finished up their ninth day of PSSA testing in their elementary school. They will spend 5 percent of their school year filling in bubbles, and this doesn’t include the weeks of class dedicated to working on test prep before these very stressful testing days. My 5th grader cried every night before she had a test, worrying that if she didn’t do well, her school would not make AYP.
As a parent, I am very troubled by the impact that these high-stakes tests have on Pennsylvania’s children and on the public education they receive.
I have friends who chose to opt their children out of the PSSAs this year. They did not do this because they oppose the use of educational standards or testing. They opted their children out of Pennsylvania’s high-stakes tests because these tests are hurting our children and our schools.
They opted their children out to expose and oppose the corporate school reform movement, which has used No Child Left Behind high-stakes testing as its primary tool to create the false narrative that America’s public schools are failing.
High-quality educational standards can be a good thing. For one, they prevent right-wing social conservatives from controlling what is taught to children who attend public schools.
State Rep. Rob Kauffman, whose children attend a public cyber school from home, expresses conservatives’ unease with federal Common Core Standards in this letter.
Educational standards help ensure that students in schools paid for by tax dollars will be taught using a standard curriculum. For example, if biology is in the standards, parents who choose to enroll their home-schooled children in a publicly funded cyber school may have to teach their children about (gasp!) evolution instead of only teaching them biblical creationism.
Standardized testing can also be useful. These tests can expose school buildings that are struggling to serve children. They can help school districts identify buildings that need to be radically changed and to take the necessary steps in order to help children.
Unfortunately, standardized testing in Pennsylvania is not being used for these purposes. Instead, high-stakes PSSAs are being used as a tool by corporate school reform advocates to put public schools in the hands of private businesses, whose goal is to profitize our children, not to educate them.
This is how it works. Schools with low test scores (many of which are filled with children living in poverty) are labeled as “failing” and then closed. For-profit companies then open new charter schools and siphon off public dollars into private pockets.
Over the years, Pennsylvania’s privately operated charter schools have been a mixed bag. Just 28 percent of brick-and-mortar charters made AYP in 2012, and many of them have consistently performed far worse than the supposedly “failing” public schools from which they draw students. Zero cyber-charter schools made AYP in 2012, and most have never made AYP.
The imposition of federal Common Core standards, which were developed using money from the loudest and wealthiest corporate school reform proponent, Bill Gates, and are suspiciously promoted by Exxon-Mobil, will exacerbate the high-stakes testing problem in Pennsylvania.
I have worked in the testing industry for over a decade and know that each state that administers standardized tests has spent years developing its own standards and tests. School districts have bought textbooks that are aligned with their own state standards and teachers have taught using these standards for years.
When the federal government forces schools in Pennsylvania to abruptly change both how and what they test, this will inevitably lead to huge failure rates on tests. This is exactly what corporate school reformers want.
In addition, children in districts with high levels of poverty will be especially vulnerable to the new Common Core tests. High-stakes standardized tests are supposed to give an overall picture of what students have and haven’t learned. Instead, what they reliably show is which students have come to school well-fed, well-rested and well taken care of. Many, many students who are hungry, tired, or abused struggle to perform well on them.
In Pennsylvania today, huge numbers of poor, tired, hungry kids go to public schools that have seen massive cuts in state funding under Gov. Corbett. These children have lost after-school tutoring, they are in crowded classes, they no longer have reading teachers or intervention specialists, many have lost music, art, and phys ed, and many barely get recess, if they get it at all.
Add to that a brand-new Common Core test, no money for new textbooks that will align with the test, and already-overworked teachers, and we have the perfect storm.
Corporate school reform folks can’t wait for Common Core tests to be implemented so that they can claim that more public schools are “failing.” They will swoop in with fancy plans for new, for-profit charter schools and start stuffing their pockets with public funds that were supposed to be used educating our children.
President Obama, Gov. Corbett, and many of our state legislators have demonstrated that they will bow to corporate interests instead of standing up for our public school children. The responsibility for ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania receive a great public education has been placed on the shoulders of parents and adults who actually care about children.
I applaud parents who had the courage expose to the very powerful corporate school reform movement by opting their children out of high-stakes standardized tests. I hope that this will lead to many serious discussions about the real motivations behind Common Core state standards and high-stakes testing in America.
Susan Spicka lives in Shippensburg, where her two daughters attend a public elementary school.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
This commentary originally appeared on Keystone Politics and is reprinted with the permission of the author.