The Oklahoma PTA is encouraging parents to opt their children out of the fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests this year because one of the test’s two prompts is a field test.
“Parents are frustrated by the overwhelming use of standardized tests,” said President Jeffery Corbett. “Oklahoma PTA believes that parents have the right to make informed decisions regarding whether or not their child provides unpaid research to the billion-dollar testing industry. They deserve the opportunity to opt their child out of the field test.”
The state’s testing vendors use data collected from field tests to develop new tests for future use, but the scores for field tests are not shared so they can be used by the student, parent, teacher or school district.
The PTA is also asking the Oklahoma State Department of Education to release information to schools regarding which of two writing test prompts that will be given to students are the field test.
Members of Oklahoma PTA in July unanimously adopted a resolution objecting to the mass administration of field tests, stating that students should not be expected to conduct corporate research.
“This, of course, comes after public tax dollars are spent not teaching students, but instead administering tests to them, creating a meaningless loss of instructional time,” the Oklahoma PTA stated in its Tuesday morning press release.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she considers the need to address growing testing concerns an urgent matter.
“I stand with parents in support of their right and responsibility to make education decisions for their own children,” she said. “I share their frustrations with the array of standardized tests and field tests in Oklahoma. One of my primary goals is to reduce over-testing and increase time for instruction. Any state assessment that does not benefit students is a barrier to learning.”
Hofmeister said she has already begun studying the use of field testing in 2014-15.
“It is a complicated issue that requires careful, informed consideration,” she said. “The doors at the (state Department of Education) are open, and I invite parents to share their concerns and ideas with me.”
Corbett said the Oklahoma PTA is taking a stand against “testing as education.”
“Our future, our children, deserve more than to be great test takers,” he said.
Bari Hathaway, president of the 350-member Jenks Middle School PTA, said the opt-out encouragement from the statewide organization was the topic of discussion at her group’s lunchtime meeting on Tuesday.
“Testing is definitely on the forefront of parents’ minds,” Hathaway said. “I have a daughter who is an eighth-grader and I don’t see any reason for her to spend what could be valuable class time doing field testing for a testing company.”
Hathaway added that field testing by the state’s vendor is just a small portion of parents’ overarching concerns about the impact on standardized testing on public school students.
“I would like to see field tests eliminated, but I also wish they could find some way to do some consolidation of all of these standardized tests,” she said. “When you spend a month of the school year testing, that’s just a huge waste of valuable classroom time. Teachers are teaching and giving tests on the material as they go along, and I think those probably provide better information for teachers and for parents.”
Throughout the spring testing window, Jenks Middle School has to secure 40 parent volunteers each day to serve as test monitors. Hathaway said that is a huge challenge, even at a school that enjoys above-average parental involvement.
“We have a large number of parents who are working full time or who have younger children at home, and it’s very difficult to find the volunteers we need to meet the state testing requirements,” Hathaway said. “We want our children to be successful and well-rounded and to receive a diverse education, and when we’re so focused on how they did on a test, that really limits them getting the well-balanced education we want.”
Linda Nye with the Sand Springs Parent Action and Advocacy Team, or PAAT, said that while she believes Hofmeister will listen to parents’ concerns, some things are beyond her control.
“My reaction to them not telling us which are the field tests and which are not is just to opt out,” Nye said. “It makes it impossible for parents to make an informed decision about what is best for our children. We in this state have made our bed by allowing our legislators to pass laws that mandate all of this stuff in our schools. You’re not going to get very far with the feds on some of these issues, but we need to start in this state saying ‘We will not put up with this.’”