Note from the Editor: A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the End of Course exams in St Johns County. Friend and parent, Kristi Mansouri, has been staying on top of the testing situation here in St Johns County, so I asked her to write up a state of the state.
A Testing Task Force was formed by the School Board of St. Johns County to address the district exams in our county.
Led by Darla March, concerned parents of the community met at Ponte Vedra High to discuss possible solutions to the incessant testing our children are facing. For testing to be such a hot topic, the turn out was incredibly low.
Do we not all agree with the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan who recently admitted standardized testing was “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and creating “undue stress” in student’s lives?
Although community members, parents, and teachers are in agreement with Duncan, the School Board is currently making decisions about district testing to make certain our students will be successful on the high-stakes state testing. So, why aren’t parents coming out of the woodwork to be heard on this subject?
My theory for the low turn out is our community feels we are fighting a losing battle. Between the new curriculum, pre-tests, state exams, and district exams, parents feel forlorn, while students feel it is their new normal. We may not be able to change the state legislation regarding testing, but we can change the district testing. We have the ability to make changes at the local level.
To date, our School Board is considering abolishing the DFA’s (District Formative Assessment). What will replace this test? The Testing Task Force is meeting to get a consensus from parents regarding the acceptable volume of testing, logistics of testing, communication to parents and students, and alignment of curriculum. Our main concern is the low-quality and redundant tests that are dominating the calendar and interfering with instructional time. Policy makers on our school board have the responsibility to hear us and implement these changes at a district level.
The Testing Task Force is leading the way to see improvement of test quality and making sure the curriculum is aligned with the test. The Task Force is also suggesting, since many of our schools do not have a 1:1 (student to computer) ratio, that the assessments go back to the traditional paper and pencil tests. This way, the school board is not investing more money into technology while we are suffering with overcrowded schools and a myriad of other problems.
Many parents are not aware that the district sets certain windows for the mandatory testing dates. Since there are not enough computers for the students to complete the district assessments, students are pulled out of the classroom during tests, lectures, reviews, or labs and forced to take the district tests. This scheduling promotes loss of instructional time, puts students behind in their classroom work, and frustrates teachers because they have low classroom attendance.
Parents have a right to know what their children are learning and how their children are progressing in the district assessments. The School Board’s focus is to use each of these assessments as a benchmark to see if each student will reach the rigorous state standards.
Therefore, the Task Force would like to see parents have access to their student’s test results, accompanied with a clarification of the student’s deficiencies and/or mastery of the curriculum. Also, the Task Force would like to see the assessments count at a lower percentage than they are currently counting. Along with the aforementioned communication concerns, the Task Force would like more transparency from the School Board regarding the curriculum maps, the pacing guide, and state benchmarks.
To summarize, I believe it is important to quote Arne Duncan again, “ we need to recognize that in many places, the sheer quantity of testing- and test prep- has become an issue. In some schools and districts, over time tests have simply been layered on top of one another, without a clear sense of strategy or direction. Where tests are redundant, or not sufficiently helpful for instruction, they cost precious time that teachers and kids can’t afford. Too much testing can rob schools of joy, and cause unnecessary stress.” So, the Task Force needs you! Every voice counts!
If you would like more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristi Mansouri is a parent with four kids in St Johns County Public Schools – Ocean Palms Elementary, Landrum Middle School and Ponte Vedra High School.