Time to Talk Testing

Testing Talk, Part I: “Standardized”

How is the dramatic expansion of high-stakes-testing affecting our schools? What is the impact on our children and their learning? Come be a part of the conversation at the only public screening in Pittsburgh of the new film, “Standardized: Lies, Money, & Civil Rights.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
5:30PM film, followed by discussion
McConomy Auditorium
Carnegie Mellon University
Suggested donation $5
(kids free & welcome, though it’s not quite The Lego Movie)


This movie is definitely worth your time: Over 400 parents, students, teachers, and community members recently turned out for a showing in Orlando, Florida. And two weekends ago, a group of thirty previewed the film here in Pittsburgh and then had a great discussion. The movie had us thinking about questions such as:

  • How many standardized tests do my children take? (if you’re in Pittsburgh, here’s the PPS assessment calendar)
  • With the proliferation of high-stakes testing, how much time are students spending on learning versus testing and test-prep?
  • What are the stakes attached to the tests for students?
  • Are high-stakes tests objective, reliable, and good measures of student achievement?
  • Are students learning how to take high-stakes-tests at the expense of actual content learning?
  • What negative side effects are students experiencing as a result of high-stakes testing?
  • To what extent have high-stakes-tests narrowed the curriculum with a focus on reading and math?
  • How has high-stakes testing changed the culture in our schools?
  • How have test results been used in making resource distribution and school closure decisions? And how have those decisions impacted our poorest students and communities of color?
  • How much do these tests cost?

Please join us for a discussion as we try to think outside the bubble! You can RSVP here to let us know you’re coming and help spread the word.


Testing Talk, Part II: A Petition

So what can we do to address any over-use or misuse of testing? Be sure to bring your ideas to the film screening. Here’s one strategy: We have started a petition, respectfully asking the Pittsburgh Public School board and administration to focus on less testing and more learning. Here is the text of the petition:

Over the past several years, our students have seen a dramatic expansion of testing. In Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), children currently take 20 or 25 (or even more) high-stakes-tests a year. How much of the year is now spent preparing for tests and taking tests? In many of our schools, computer labs have become testing facilities and are no longer available for classes for weeks on end. We worry that the curriculum has narrowed, with a focus on reading and math test scores. And with the addition of testing this year in art and music, we worry that our students are losing more precious class time from these “specials” which are only offered once every six days.

We, concerned parents, students, educators, and community members, believe in real learning and more learning time for our children. We support quality assessments that help our children learn and provide meaningful information to teachers to help them meet the needs of individual students. We want tests, ideally designed by teachers, which align with the curriculum and give timely, informative results to parents and students. We think parents and teachers deserve post-testing access to all tests upon which their children’s grades and records (and teachers’ ratings) are based.

Yet the skyrocketing use of high-stakes-testing in our classrooms (such as the PSSAs, Keystones, Terra Nova, GRADE, CDTs, CBAs, and many others) does not appear to meet any of these requirements. Abundant evidence demonstrates that one-size-fits-all testing does not work, and we are concerned that the high-stakes attached to so many tests are actually harming our students and schools. We are particularly worried about the disproportionate impact high-stakes-testing may be having on our poorest students, most struggling students, and students of color.

We respectfully call on the PPS Board and Administration to:

  1. Conduct a thorough review of the PPS system of assessments and fully disclose to the public the cost, schedule, nature, purpose and mandating agency of all standardized tests (including field tests).
  2. Reduce the number of unnecessary assessments given to our children, saving time and money for real learning.
  3. End the use of high-stakes tests to make decisions that have an inequitable impact on students living in poverty, students of color, English language learners, and students receiving special education services (such as grade retention, remedial classes, access to advanced classes and gifted programs, and selection to magnet schools).
  4. Commit to developmentally appropriate and pedagogically sound assessments, replacing multiple-choice tests for the youngest learners (pre-K to 2nd grade) with performance-based assessments and evidence of learning from students’ ongoing class work; and greatly reducing multiple choice testing for older learners.

Less testing, more learning!

Please click here to sign the petition. And I hope to see you on Tuesday for the screening of “Standardized” and the community conversation.

2 thoughts on “Time to Talk Testing

  1. Hi Jessie,

    Any reason youre not including the Feb. 6 showing of Standardization to over 200 people in Philadelphia in your advertising? Just wondering.

    Ken Derstine

    • Ken, thanks for reminding us! Just used the Orlando example since our planning team happened to be on a webinar with them last night and learned about their huge turnout. The movie is showing all over the country to large crowds — hope Pittsburghers come out to see it here, too.

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