The North Carolina public school end-of-year testing window is now officially open. With this season, comes dozens of hours of children sitting, practice-testing, reviewing, and re-testing. Children as young as eight years old will test for 3-4 hours with no break on consecutive days; Some students with an extended time accommodation will test even longer. This reality calls to question the efficacy and developmental appropriateness of our state’s testing practices. Prior to End Of Grade testing (EOG), classroom teachers already have plenty of indicators for each student’s proficiency in reading and math. Yet, children are tested at the end of the school year, when it’s no longer possible to correct the course.
End-of-year testing is often referred to as ‘high stakes” because it can be the decision point for promoting a child to the next grade, or even graduating from high school. In North Carolina, EOGs are also used to score the teachers and schools. High-stakes testing can make or break a student’s path for the future and also put a teacher’s salary and career status at risk. As long as North Carolina maintains an accountability system based on student test scores, it will fail to operate in the best interest of our children. For this reason and many others, we developed a list summarizing why we refuse to allow our own children to participate. For us, it is an act of resistance, rooted in respect for children, educators, and social justice.
- EOGs are not required. High-stakes tests are not mandated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. North Carolina has failed to take advantage of the flexibility provided by the federal legislation to conduct innovative testing that employs more inclusive, differentiated and holistic assessment models.
- EOGs provide an incomplete picture that is not sufficient to inform instruction. Many important skills that children need to succeed in life are not the tested problems. For example, there are so many reading problems in the 3-8th grade Math EOG that it’s impossible to know if a low score is due to a struggle with reading itself or simply math aptitude. Furthermore, the gap between taking the test and getting the scores can span weeks or months, and the scores are not helpful for identifying the specific strengths and needs of each student.
- Classrooms and schools are driven by testing, rather than being driven by child development. Our children rarely get unstructured play at school, and have limited access to fresh air. International protocols require that prisoners have two hours outside everyday, but recess in North Carolina is only 30 minutes, and this is all the students get.
- Prioritizing reading and math creates a deficit of resources and exposure to the whole curriculum. Social Studies, Wellness, and the Arts are not amenity disciplines. They are critical to healthy growth and human development. Students receive a narrowed version of the curriculum as they are prepared for high-stakes test performance instead of being better prepared for life and cultivating healthy relationships.
- EOGs humiliate and further stigmatize at-risk children. These tests are developmentally inappropriate for some students, including those with certain disabilities and those learning the English language. Yet, children are forced to test, even though they are certain to fail. Those students who already struggle the most are often demoralized and develop negative attitudes about school.
- North Carolina limits funding for students with disabilities and English language learners. Schools and districts serving a higher percentage of these students are unable to provide all necessary supports for these learners throughout the year. When these subgroups fail to demonstrate proficiency, it’s probably because the need for resources was greater than the funding, rather than a poor effort by the teacher.
- The NC School Report Cards, which are based on EOG scores, have been used to justify school privatization and “opportunity” vouchers. More and more public school funding resources are being funneled to charter schools and voucher programs so that public schools can no longer provide adequate teacher salaries, infrastructure, and supplies. Public school districts are also unable to meet basic staffing needs such as school librarians, nurses, counselors, and social workers. Refusing the EOG is another way that our families demonstrate support and gratitude for the ongoing, daily efforts of public school educators.
- The NC School Report Cards are misleading data points that perpetuate systemic inequity and racially segregated schools. Parents use these grades when choosing neighborhoods and schools, and research indicates that low performance is linked to poverty, not quality of instruction. Refusing to participate in the EOG testing is one way to protest the NC Report Card grading system. Additionally, these “school grades” are also the reason used to justify the further entrenchment of privatization efforts as described above.
- Reducing the efforts of children, educators, and schools to a single data point, and then making judgements about the quality of those efforts is demoralizing, dehumanizing, and morally bankrupt. Reminders and notes to students letting them know they are “more than a score” are a good start, but for many students, their personal learning goals are so intertwined with test performance that they become overwhelmed by a sense of failure. There are not enough EOG pep rallies or notes of encouragement in the world to mitigate the loss of self-confidence for some children; especially over multiple years.
- We want our kids to love learning, and love going to school. Children attending private schools are not subjected to annual, high-stakes standardized tests. They do not spend their springtime, and weeks during the school year preparing for tests and testing Instead, teachers select and share content using high-quality resources and sufficient materials, assign projects, and then are trusted to assess students themselves. Teachers are viewed as professionals who are qualified to oversee the entire life cycle of learning. If that model is good enough for private school children, it’s good enough for the rest of us.
To clarify, we are not against testing. We are against bad policy. We choose instead, to allow our children to experience the full continuum of child development, and support assessment data that can be used diagnostically. We place a higher value on work samples and teacher conferences. Our children do participate in school-based assessments. Some of these are administered three times a year; surely this is sufficient. We look forward to the day when children, educators, and schools are no longer shamed because they did not “meet expectations.” Until that day, we are going to have field trips, visit family, and play outside during the testing window, because that’s what’s best for kids.
This article was written by Jen Bourne in collaboration with Dr. Chelsea Bartel. Both women serve on the leadership team of North Carolina Families for School Testing Reform, and both share a unique sense of fashion. Chelsea is a school psychologist living in Durham who refuses testing for her children attending Durham Public Schools. Jen is a career educator on hiatus; spending the year penning Top Ten Lists for NC Policy Watch, stirring multiple pots, and playing with her 4-year old daughter. Jen also refuses testing for her children attending Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Special thanks to Nan Fulcher for working her clarifying, editorial magic. #FewerTestsFairerTestsFruitfulTests https://nctestingreform.org/