Last night over 120 people came together to watch the new movie, “Standardized.” We had parents from the Northside to Hazelwood, Duquesne to Mt. Lebanon, and everywhere in between; teachers from Pittsburgh to Steel Valley; principals from Cannonsburg in Washington, County; at least four school board members; leaders of several community organizations; and many others. Following the film, we had a discussion that ran well over an hour, as we thought together about some of the issues it had raised: what tests are appropriate? how much testing is OK? what are the consequences of high-stakes testing that we are seeing in our schools and communities?
One of the clear themes of the movie that came out in our conversation could be summed up in four words: millions spent, no results. After seeing the documentary, Greg Taranto, who was Pennsylvania’s 2012 Middle School Principal of the Year, tweeted: “Pts [parents] /taxpayers have 2 realize millions of tax $ going into tests tht tell us nothing.” When asked by twitter user @EdCampPgh what the big take-aways from the movie were, Dr. Taranto tweeted, “Need to stand up for quality education…too much time/$ spent on testing.” In response to that post, Michael Allison, principal of Hopewell high school in Aliquippa, tweeted “AMEN!”
The money really is astonishing. The new Keystone exams are costing us taxpayers $70 million to develop over a six-year period. [PA House Republican Caucus, 12-13-13] The new School Performance Profile system, largely based on student test scores, has already cost us $2.7 million to develop and it will cost an estimated $838,000 every year to maintain. [Post-Gazette, 10-5-13] Our legislators also signed a five-year, $201.1 million contract with Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corporation to administer high-stakes-tests to our students. [PennLive.com, 12-1-11] This doesn’t include the millions that local school districts are paying to develop their own tests and purchase new test-prep materials.
Yesterday I shared with you nine ways we might work together to promote more learning and less testing. [“Strategies to Reduce High-Stakes Testing“] The film highlighted another strategy worth noting: Rep. Mike Tobash (R – Schuylkill/Berks Counties), has sponsored House Bill 1506, seeking “to halt the state Department of Education (PDE) from the development and implementation of further standardized testing for nine years.” [PA House Republican Caucus, 12-13-13] Rep. Tobash explained,
“I do not believe that standardized testing should be the focal point of education. Without knowing the potential outcomes and unintended consequences, pausing this exam process could be beneficial to everyone. … By pausing the development and implementation of the last five [Keystone] exams, our schools will have more time to adapt to the first five exams and the corresponding Pennsylvania Core Standards, and the state will have more time to get feedback on the results to better understand any unintended consequences of the tests. … The bottom line is that we all want our graduates to have satisfactory knowledge in the subjects of reading, math, writing, science and history, but there is so far no evidence that the Keystone Exams are producing that result.”
It’s worth noting that HB 1506 was introduced by a Republican, proving once again that great public education is not a partisan issue. The bill is currently in the House Education Committee. Where do our local legislators stand on it? “Standardized” makes it clear that there is real urgency to reducing the overuse and misuse of high-stakes testing: children are being harmed, schools are changing, the number of tests just keeps growing, and the stakes keep getting piled on. It’s going to take lots of us working on this from multiple angles, at the local, state, and federal level. What can you do?