An “Open Letter” to the CDE

Ben FranklinFor those of you not aware what has been happening in Colorado the past few weeks, high-school seniors in Boulder started a mass protest and opt-out movement against the CMAS test seniors were required to take last week. Instead of staying home, these students protested in front of their school; they wrote a letter to the CDE explaining why they refused to take the tests; they created a video expressing their concern for the direction in which education is headed; and they collected food for a food drive in their community. To see the letter on the CDE website and the hundreds of students who signed their names to this document click here. I’m so proud that these students decided to be movers and make things happen!

~Pauline Hawkins

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

We, students in Colorado, value our education, and therefore stand in firm opposition to the Colorado Measure of Academic Success (CMAS) testing program. By doing so, we are in no way, shape, or form, trying to disturb the learning environment at any of our high schools or in Colorado, but rather we hope to initiate dialogue between policymakers and students about issues that directly impact our future and the future of education in Colorado.

This year’s CMAS testing is the pilot of a statewide testing program for high school seniors.  The Colorado Department of Education’s Assessment Unit, which deals with standardized testing, plans to evaluate at the end of this year whether or not this standardized testing program is an effective means of measuring student and teacher progress.  We are concerned that if we fail to act, students will be forced to endure these tests for the foreseeable future.

Our grievances regarding Colorado’s expanded standardized testing program are as follows:

 I. Excessive standardized testing is harmful to our learning.

Standardized testing costs valuable teaching and learning time.  Our school is losing eight hours of class time, the equivalent of eight days of a class curriculum, in order to administer CMAS.  This deprives students of time to connect with their teachers and prepare for tests, such as AP and IB exams, which provide students with the opportunity to receive college credit. The test is particularly difficult for high school seniors, many of whom are in the midst of the college application process around this time of the year.

As high school seniors, we are subject to significant testing fatigue.  Students are mandated to take the CSAP or later TCAP exams from third through tenth grade, and the ACT in eleventh grade.  Many high school seniors are in the midst of SAT and SAT subject tests, which, unlike CMAS, have a bearing on students’ future success. At this point, we, who value our education and postsecondary readiness, feel that our time has been disrespected by policymakers who treat standardized tests, in which students had no input,  as a fix-all solution to our education system.

Furthermore, schools spend weeks organizing testing schedules, which forces administrators to prioritize standardized testing over needs of the school and the student body.  Adding more standardized testing only worsens this problem, a reduction of learning time for testing does not better education.

 

II. The CMAS standards do not represent the material taught in Colorado high schools.

The current CMAS tests do not parallel Colorado’s high school curriculum.  Colorado high school students are required to take only three years of a social studies; therefore many students do not take social studies during their senior year. The CMAS social studies test includes an economics section, but economics is not a required course for high school students in the state of Colorado. Testing someone on something they do not know, will not teach administrators anything. The goal of CMAS is to gauge our learning, but this is not possible when we have not learned, or been required to learn, what is on the test.

 

III. Studies have repeatedly shown that standardized testing does not accurately measure teacher or student performance.

Standardized testing has never been an accurate measure of student or teacher performance, and there is no reason to expect CMAS to diverge from the trend.

Firstly, standardized testing forces teachers to “teach to the test,” thereby neglecting students’ individualized needs.  The content of standardized testing rarely reflects the content that students are learning.  One student remarked: “As a sophomore, I was taking precalc. When I came along to the Math TCAP and was asked to make histograms, I had completely forgotten them, because it was something I hadn’t learned since sixth grade.” Exams shouldn’t punish students for being above the “standard” level, but unfortunately that’s what standardized testing in Colorado has done.

Moreover, standardized testing unfairly punishes low income school districts.  Alfie Kohn, who has written extensively about parenting and education, writes: “Research has repeatedly found that the amount of poverty in the communities where schools are located, along with other variables having nothing to do with what happens in classrooms, accounts for the great majority of the difference in test scores from one area to the next.”[1]  When looking at the CMAS testing scenario, it is easy to see why this occurs. Pearson, the for-profit corporation that created the CMAS tests, recommends that schools purchase their textbooks in order to help students prepare.  For low-income school districts, this is often impossible.[2]

CMAS appears to hold true to these same problems, and thus does not provide a sound method to evaluate schools or teachers.  For example, the CMAS social studies exam tests students in geography, government, economics, and history.  Since these subjects are based primarily on recalling facts, this is not a measure of the teachers ability to teach, but the students ability to remember; thus, it is unfair to fund schools based on these measures. According to Lauren Resnick, a leading cognitive scientist, “They [standardized tests] tend to be contrived exercises that measure how much students have managed to cram into short-term memory. Even the exceptions–questions that test the ability to reason–generally fail to offer students the opportunity “to carry out extended analyses, to solve open-ended problems, or to display command of complex relationships, although these abilities are at the heart of higher-order competence.” For example, at our high school, government and geography are taught freshman year.   If students don’t show proficiency in these subjects, it is not because our teachers are lacking, but because we have not covered the content in three years. Given that different schools have different curriculums and different scheduling, it is hard to see how the tests will accurately measure teacher or student performance.

IV. We as students are subjected to these tests at the same time as Colorado is seeing cuts in education funding.

Colorado schools are currently facing funding shortages, and spending more on standardized tests only adds to the deficit. Amendment 23 to the Colorado Constitution mandated the legislature to annually increase the funding for schools. The amendment stated that the amount of funding a school received would be calculated from a base amount, plus more funding due to “factors,” or variables such as school district size, local cost-of-living, and the number of “at-risk” kids.  The amendment mandated that this amount must be increased  by at least inflation plus 1% until 2010, and then by at least the rate of inflation after 2010.[4] However, since the 2008 recession, lawmakers have repeatedly used a loophole in the law called the “negative factor.”  Rather than include the factors in calculating school funding, lawmakers allocated funding based solely off the base amount; thus, school funding actually decreased.[5] Furthermore, the number of students enrolled in Colorado’s public schools system has increased significantly since Amendment 23 was passed.  When adjusting for inflation, Colorado spent 6% less per student in the 2014 fiscal year than it did in the 2008 fiscal year.[6]

While Colorado has cut spending for schools, it continues to spend tens of millions of dollars on standardized testing each year.[7]  While some funding for CMAS came from the federal government, the costs of administering the test comes from the state taxpayers’ pockets.

As students, we believe this is an unfair arrangement.  We have been subjected to larger class sizes, cuts to art, music, and extracurricular activities, and fewer opportunities in school.  Our reward for putting up with these difficulties is more standardized testing with questionable purposes and monetary costs.

V. The CMAS standards are created by a for-profit corporation, not educators.

While the state allocates less funds toward education, it is spending plenty on standardized tests.  Pearson is a for-profit corporation that makes its profit from standardized testing in states such as Colorado.  In 2013, it achieved sales of over nine billion dollars, 60% of which came from the United States.[8]

Despite these immense resources, Pearson has hardly been error-proof:

  • In 2009, Pearson was forced to pay $9.5 million to the state of Wyoming for “complete default of the contract” after the roll-out of computerized testing failed.[9]
  • In 2013, incorrect scoring on a Pearson test for entrance into gifted and talented programs in New York City led to 13% of children being erroneously rejected from the program.[10]
  • In multiple cases, Pearson has failed to report scores on time, resulting in delays and questions concerning the accuracy of the data eventually reported.[11]

Furthermore, Pearson uses a huge education lobby network to implement standardized testing across the nation.  According to Alan Singer, education professor at Hofstra University, “Pearson’s non-for-profit foundation has paid local and state education commissioners whose schools do business with the for-profit Pearson corporation to attend international conferences in Rio de Janeiro, London, Singapore, and Helsinki, where they meet with Pearson executives.”[12] Additionally, according to the CMAS website from the Colorado Department of Education, Pearson actively encourages schools to “better prepare” for standardized testing by buying Pearson-produced textbooks. It seems that Pearson uses standardized testing not to benefit our education, but to increase their profits. We do not want our education to be used as a tool to line corporate pockets. Only Pearson stands to gain from these tests, but we lose valuable school hours and Colorado taxpayers’ money goes to waste.

If the creators of CMAS really believe in the importance of education, then they need to take a step back from test scores and look at what kids are learning. We believe that the funding and resources that are allocated to standardized tests could be more effectively used to enrich the school courses themselves to be more interactive and engaging.  This relocation of resources will ensure, more so than CMAS will, that students are successful in meeting academic standards and, more importantly, in learning.

Rather than standardized tests, let’s have smaller class sizes.  Let’s fund art and music classes.  Let’s have a conversation about education policy that includes the people who are most affected by it.  Let’s make a commitment to future Colorado students that their learning and their future are more important than their testing.

We hope that you will consider and understand that the actions we take to protest the CMAS, are not meant to disrupt our learning, but represent our responsibility to protect our education and the future of education in Colorado.

Signed,

The students of Colorado

 

Endnotes

[1] Kohn, Alfie. “The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.” The University of West Georgia. N.p. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014.<http://teacherrenewal.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Testing,%20Testing,%20Testing.pdf.>

[2] Broussard, Meredith. “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing.” The Atlantic. N.p. 15 July 2014. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/07/why-poor-schools-cant-win-at-standardized-testing/374287/.>

[3]Kohn, Alfie. “The case against standardized testing: raising the scores, ruining the schools.” The University of West Georgia. N.p. Web.  Accessed 22 October 2014.<http://teacherrenewal.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/Testing,%20Testing,%20Testing.pdf.>

[4] “Learning Together: Assessing Colorado’s K-12 Education System.” Center for Education Policy Analysis at the Graduate School of Public Affairs. University of Colorado at Denver. October 2006. Web. Accessed October 22, 2014. <http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/SPA/BuechnerInstitute/Centers/CEPA/Publications/Documents/LearningTogether.Oct%2006.pdf.>

[5] Torres, Zahira. “Group suing Colorado over $1 billion cut in school funding.” The Denver Post. N.p. 27 June 2014. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26046666/group-files-suit-against-colorado-over-school-funding.>

[6] Leachman, Michael and Chris Mai. “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. N.p. 20 May 2014. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4011.>

[7] Wetzel, Mike. “Colorado teachers concerned by excessive testing.” Colorado Education Association. N.p. 18 February 2014. Web. Accessed 23 October 2014. <http://www.coloradoea.org/resources/association-news/2014/02/19/testing.&gt;

[8] Singer, Alan. “Pearson Rakes in the Profit.” Huffington Post. N.p. 19 May 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-profits_b_2902642.html.>

[9] Solochek, Jeff. “Pearson problems nothing new in testing world.” Tampa Bay Times. N.p. 18 May 2011. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/pearson-problems-nothing-new-testing-world.>

[10] Figueroa, Alyssa. “8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests.” AlterNet. N.p. 6 August 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests.>

[11] Solochek, Jeff. “Problems, problems everywhere with Pearson’s testing system.” Tampa Bay Times. N.p. 17 May 2011. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/problems-problems-everywhere-pearsons-testing-system.>

[12] Singer, Alan. “Pearson Rakes in the Profit.” Huffington Post. N.p. 19 May 2013. Web. Accessed 22 October 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/pearson-education-profits_b_2902642.html.>

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4 Responses to An “Open Letter” to the CDE

  1. HMcCandlish021 says:

    That is amazingly written, the facts are impressive and I hope the letter will be taken seriously. Well done Colorado students! 

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy Alpha™, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

  2. wildflowersp says:

    Very well said. Pay attention school administrators!

    I hope your move went well, and things are looking up for you.

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