Philly puts standardized testing to the test

Following on an City Council resolution that questions the impact of standardized testing, Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell expressed support for Philadelphia families who have chosen to “opt out” of standardized testing.

The resolution adopted on Dec. 11, 2014, calls on the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities.

On Jan. 21, City Paper reported that the parents of 17 percent of students enrolled in the Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, a public middle school, have decided their children will not participate in standardized testing this year.

“Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.

Council members believe that the use of standardized testing has dramatically increased in recent years, taking up an increasing amount of school learning time, and interfering with educators’ efforts to focus on students’ development in areas of critical thinking and creative problem-solving. “We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children,” Squilla said.

And Philadelphia isn’t the only one putting standardized testing to the test. This week the Senate education committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law and, specifically, on testing. “The committee's chairman, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has released a draft bill offering a lot more leeway to states in designing their own assessment systems,” reported NPR.

However, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Senator Patty Murray, said that annual testing should remain mandatory.

Murray went as far as to call standardized testing a civil-rights issue. "We know that if we don't have ways to measure students' progress, and if we don't hold our states accountable, the victims will invariably be the kids from poor neighborhoods, children of color, and students with disabilities," she said.

But for Feltonville students, standardized testing is a matter of anxiety. According to Quiñones-Sánchez, at schools like Feltonville, which include a significant number of students who are “English Language Learners” (ELL) and which have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) due to disability or special needs, children report stress and even physical illness caused by high-stakes testing.

“Over-reliance on standardized testing disproportionately harms our most vulnerable students,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.
With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, council members Quiñones-Sánchez, Squilla, and Blackwell have called upon the School Reform Commission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform the use of standardized testing.

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Friday, January 23, 2015 - 11:02am
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Ana Gamboa