Opponents of standardized school testing take their case to Tacoma School Board

Opponents of standardized testing in schools challenged the Tacoma School Board last week to take a stand against annual state testing and to encourage parents who want to opt their children out.

Testing opponents also spoke out against the use of state test results in teacher evaluations, something that would become mandatory if proposed state legislation is enacted.

“I do not want to put my kids in a position to feel responsible for their teacher’s job security,” said parent Sandi Strong, who has chosen to opt her children out of standardized tests for a third school year.

“Everyone knows these tests are not a true measure of student achievement and are being used for the wrong purpose,” said parent Susan Ryan.

She urged the school board Thursday night to “slow down, and take a wait-and-see approach” before investing further in curriculum aimed at boosting test scores.

“Divert the time wasted on test prep, training and test taking this year into actual classroom instruction and enrichment,” she said.

Kim Golding, a former Tacoma School Board member who has emerged as one of the leaders of the local opt-out movement, said “teachers are tired and afraid. Standardized testing is sucking the joy out of everything.”

She asked the board to “end the runaway data collection train” and share information with parents on how they can opt their children out of the tests.

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would mandate the use of student growth data, as measured by state tests, in teacher and principal evaluations.

One bill says evaluations must include state-based tools “when relevant.” Another specifies that student results from state tests in reading, language arts or math would weigh in as one of multiple measures on evaluations for teachers who teach those subjects.

The state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, opposes both bills.

Legislators are hoping to enact a law that would satisfy federal mandates and regain Washington state’s waiver from some restrictions imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That waiver was revoked last year because Washington state law allows, but does not require, the use of state test scores in educator evaluations.

Tacoma Superintendent Carla Santorno, who testified in Olympia last week in favor of two Senate bills, said at the board meeting that standardized testing “shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all” of what schools do.

But she said testing can help schools and districts measure their success against others.

“No teacher should ever be fired on the basis of a test,” Santorno said. But she said test results can be one factor in measuring how a teacher’s students are progressing.

Oakland High School teacher Tom O’Kelley said he fears that new, more difficult state tests to be administered this spring “will label up two-thirds of our students as failures.”

O’Kelley, who teaches struggling students who come through Tacoma’s alternative high school, said teachers of students who don’t do well on the tests won’t see test results until those kids have moved on to the next grade level.

“Great teachers are leaving the field in droves, because they aren’t being allowed to teach, but must follow scripts and pacing guides,” he said.

Board member Debbie Winskill said she wants the School Board to talk more about the testing issue and to ask lawmakers the intent of legislation they are considering.

Winskill agreed with some of the testing opponents who spoke Thursday, saying she believes testing takes up too much time and that prescribed lessons driven by the tests inhibit teacher creativity.

“Our teachers need energizing right now,” she said.