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Another Voice: Boycotts of standardized tests protest the harmful effect on our education system

By Chris Cerrone

An editorial in The Buffalo News criticizing families who boycott the New York State assessments mischaracterizes the actions of parents and the testing program. Parents who opt out of the testing do so to protest what high-stakes standardized assessments have done to our education system.

Some families began to boycott the assessments as the No Child Left Behind policies began to narrow the school curriculum. As a result of the rating of schools via NCLB and its test-and-punish philosophy, the focus of many elementary classrooms shifted primarily to subjects of English language arts and mathematics. History and science instruction became limited or ignored as schools focused on building skills in the tested subjects of ELA and math. The arts and physical education have been hit with major cutbacks due to the focus on core topics and misguided budget cuts. As standardized assessments become high-stakes for adults, our children are no longer receiving a well-rounded education in their elementary years.

As New York forced local districts to alter their teacher evaluation systems and adopt the Common Core, more families decided to take action to save their children’s educational experience. These new reforms have significantly raised the pressure to increase exam scores. Many schools have further narrowed their focus to tested subjects and have neglected other disciplines. The amount of time spent on test preparation and exam skill-building is taking away from critical thinking and creativity. Many people do not understand that raising standardized test scores does not necessarily equal increased learning. Even children who are successful on the state assessments are harmed by this flawed system as they are not receiving the diverse educational experiences they deserve.

The editorial makes the same misleading statement that some education officials claim: The state assessments provide useful evidence of student progress for teachers and parents. Families receive a score report months after the testing that contains little information to determine their child’s specific strengths or weaknesses. More shocking is that educators receive only a vague set of data from the state assessment results. Teachers and families cannot see the entire test or the students’ actual answers to assist them in helping children. Educators are not allowed to discuss the actual test questions or they could be fired. How does this secretive assessment system help our children’s education? It does not.

Opt-out families are not trying to shield their kids from high standards, but saying they want a challenging, well-rounded experience for their children that the current high-stakes standardized testing system limits.

Chris Cerrone of Springville is co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education.