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Breaking Out of the Testing Trap

Like many Macomb parents, I’m not pleased with high-stakes testing. 

Testing culture, which has changed the very nature of what public education is, has become a trap.  

I want Macomb children to pass their days reading, writing, and interacting with teachers and classmates about exciting and meaningful ideas, problems and discoveries.  I want them to become the kind of citizens who, when it’s time to vote, can think deeply about complex questions like globalization, climate change, and social inequalities.  I want their educations to support the positive impact they must make in the world, but we must break out of the testing trap to get there.

I have wondered what would happen if my daughter, like waves of students across the country, refused to take the high-stakes PARCC test scheduled for next month.  Would we lose federal funds and are we meant to feel threatened?  Have we sold our souls to testing?

My honors English daughter could not answer any questions in the literature section of the recent PARCC practice test. How is it that she finds this test unanswerable and meaningless? And if it is meaningless to her, what about the majority of children in Macomb who do not grow up in a house full of books? And even if she could answer the questions correctly, does that mean she should direct her creative energy there?

The burden of explanation falls on school administrators, lawmakers, and the President to prove that high-stakes testing causes no harm, and that the benefits far outweigh the costs.  Our leaders owe us an explanation for supporting a culture of tests, and here’s why. 

Credit Rich Egger
Holly Stovall

First, parents, students, and teachers did not ask for these tests, which are called “high-stakes” because they threaten to withdraw federal funds from schools that do not perform well. Testing culture sets students, teachers, and parents on edge.  It takes the excitement out of learning and fails to prepare students to think independently or problem solve.  Public school children deserve better.

Second, scholars believe testing culture is ineffective and harmful. This month more than 500 researchers signed a letter asking Congress to stop test-focused reformsEducation historian Diane Ravitch has been battling high-stakes testing for years.  If our leaders won’t listen to parents, teachers, or students, maybe they will listen to the scholars, but I doubt it, because the voice of money of is louder than ours, which brings me to my last point.

Public funds that should be invested in local schools are sent to a private corporation, Pierson, that makes the PARCC test. Education is supposed to be a public good. Why not remove private corporations from public education and send this taxpayer money back to the schools? 

Parents are trapped.  If we legally exercise the right to refuse PARCC for our children, we’ve slightly cut into Pierson’s profit margin, and this is dangerous. 

High-stakes testing is a neo-liberal strategy to enhance corporate profits:  the government removes a chunk of federal funding that had once gone to local schools, passes those funds to a private corporation, and if parents object or if students don’t perform well, the government takes what’s left of our federal funds and passes that money to a private company.  It becomes even more difficult to publicly educate children.  We then blame teachers, parents, and public education in general.  However, if parents comply with testing culture, we have wasted our children’s time, which is the real harm.

We must find a way out of this trap.  There is a Macomb Board of Education meeting (February 23).  Parents deserve a voice and a full explanation from our district leaders.

Holly Stovall is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or the university.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.