1) Testing is dumbing down our schools. Placing standardized tests at the center of the curriculum forces the reduction or elimination of subjects like history, science, the arts and physical education, as well as narrowing the ways the “core” subjects of reading and math are taught. (For more on our opinions about this see our piece in Schoolbook: http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/01/20/dear-governor-lobby-to-save-a-love-of-reading.)
2) Testing is unduly stressful for young children. The test preparations, including mandatory afterschool and weekend sessions and practice tests scheduled throughout the year, and the official test itself (six days of testing in the third grade, more in higher grades) are extremely onerous for young students who are compelled to sit through them. Testing often becomes torturous for special-education students, who are given the perverse “accommodation” of extra time. To make matters worse, this year the testing time is being substantially lengthened so that test designers can try out practice questions for future years, using our children as uncompensated guinea pigs.
3) Using test scores to grade teachers hurts the most vulnerable students. The use of standardized tests as the primary performance measure of teachers and schools creates a powerful incentive for teachers to avoid schools that serve students in need of extra help. Teachers often cannot significantly raise the academic performance of children who do not have adequate support for learning outside of school. Punishing teachers when students are struggling because of factors beyond their control, such as unstable home situations or learning disabilities, is gross social injustice – and it is the children who pay the price.
We cannot allow our children to be used as tools in the enforcement of unjust laws and destructive, wasteful policies. They will be educated in public schools, and they will not take state-mandated standardized tests.
We have not come to this decision lightly. We have considered the central argument for the tests, that they are essential tools for assessing student and teacher performance, and rejected it. If the tests are necessary, why does the most successful school system in the world – Finland’s – do without them? The fact is, teaching is too complex an activity ever to be properly assessed by numerical models, which is why expensive evaluation systems based on test scores keep failing. Teachers know how to assess children’s progress, and principals, fellow teachers and parents know how to evaluate teachers, by observing their work directly.
We have been warned repeatedly of serious consequences that might arise from boycotting these tests: our children will not be permitted to move on to the next grade, or, even worse, their schools and teachers will be penalized because student absence from the tests is reflected in teacher assessments and the school’s grade. It has been suggested, in other words, that we should comply with the tests because our act of civil disobedience will cause the state to harm others. Because this is a very real danger, many parents opposed to high-stakes testing have chosen to petition for the legal right to opt out of the tests rather than to boycott them outright (information about this option is also available at changethestakes.org). However, we refuse to be intimidated by threats coming from the Department of Education into submitting to practices that we consider both unethical and harmful to our children. And we will challenge any actions taken by the DOE to punish our child or his wonderful teachers because of our decision.
Thank you for reading this letter, and please contact us to share ideas about how parents can play a leading role in restoring public education in our city.