Parents and educators stand together against growing test stress in children

Parents Across America

PAA has also sent letters to the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics asking that they investigate our concerns that high-stakes standardized testing has become a health hazard for our nation’s public school children.

According to Dr. Isabel Nuñez, Associate Professor in the Center for Policy and Social Justice, Concordia University Chicago:

“High-stakes testing is doing children grievous mental and emotional harm. Parents Across America has gathered overwhelming evidence of the destructive psychological impact of test anxiety. For your children’s sake, read and be outraged!”

Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor in the department of Psychology, Boston College, added:

“The evidence is overwhelming that our national mania for testing–and for so much time in school and at schoolwork–is damaging the physical and psychological health of our children. I appreciate the work of Parents Across America and sincerely hope that the educational 4 kids at deskspowers that be start to listen. What we have today is, essentially, state-mandated child abuse.”

Testing in the early years, which is strongly opposed by early childhood professionals, is taking a toll. According to Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige:

“As we see testing increasingly edge out play and active learning in classrooms for young kids, we also see more and more children who don’t like school, who feel way too much pressure, who don’t want to go to this place that feels so uncomfortable and out of synch with who they are and what they need.”

A research paper recently published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests a correlation between the increased academic pressure on young children and the significant increase in ADHD diagnoses (Brosco).

Coping skills, “stealth” assessments not the answer

Much of the literature on test anxiety focuses on how to help children cope with the stress. In contrast, PAA believes the cause of the stress itself must be addressed. No child should be exposed to prolonged, intense stress, which can inhibit brain function and take a toll on mental health.

PAA is not simply asking for an end to high-stakes, one-shot testing. Parents are demanding that no child be harmed in the assessment process. We know that test publishers and education entrepreneurs are already developing new ways to label, sort and profile students through high-tech devices now taking over classrooms. This may not create as much stress but carries other dangers such as:

  • Constant collection of student data via online websites, apps, and programs without parental notification.
  • Embedded or “stealth” assessments – students will not even be aware if their work is being used for high-stakes purposes.
  • A significant increase in the amount of screen time children are exposed to – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a two hour per day screen time limit for children.

PAA has many other concerns about the misuse and overuse of standardized tests which we have detailed in previous position papers and fact sheets (see, for example, “Testing and ESEA,” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/TestingandESEA1-15-15.pdf and “Why More Standardized Tests Won’t Improve Education” http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/09/why-more-standardized-tests-wont-improve-education/.boy with glasses

Our full position paper with recommendations and endorsements can be found here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/educator-endorsements-paa-test-stress-position-paper/

Our one-page fact sheet on test stress is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Test-Stress-facts-2-1-16rev.pdf

and our background paper is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Test-Stress-Doc-full1-28-16.pdf

A downloadable pdf version of our position paper is here: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/TestStressPositionrev2-1-16.pdf

To learn more about testing or PAA, please visit www.parentsacrossamerica.org or email us at:info@parentsacrossamerica.org.

Contacts:

  • Julie Woestehoff, Interim Executive Director, Parents Across America, 773-175-3989
  • Laura Bowman, leader of PAA-Roanoke Valley (VA), 540-819-6385
  • Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, leader of PAA- Suburban Philadelphia (PA), 215-498-2549

 

Testing for Joy and Grit? DEY And The Early Childhood Community Weigh In

On February 29th The New York Times published the following article: Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills. In an excerpt the article explains:
…starting this year, several California school districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate — ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.
 
A recent update to federal education law requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance. So other states are watching these districts as a potential model. But the race to test for so-called social-emotional skills has raised alarms even among the biggest proponents of teaching them, who warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.
DEY’s Senior Advisor (and several other ECE experts) weigh in below:

 

Nancy Carlsson-Paige: 

Testing children’s social and emotional skills is a bad idea.  These skills are crucial to school success and life long happiness—we’ve seen this through many research studies. But skills such as self and social awareness, managing emotions, developing empathy, forming positive relationships, and learning conflict resolution skills grow over time in children and from the inside out.  They develop in children as the result of interactions with others in classrooms that foster these skills through the curriculum, relationships, and activities specifically designed to encourage social and emotional skill building.

Research shows that reward systems can influence social and emotional behavior, but the learning does not last once the rewards are removed.  We want children to be kind and feel empathy for others even when the teacher isn’t looking or the promise of earning points isn’t there.  Research has also shown that self reporting does not match up with actual behavior.  Most importantly, we learn from moral development theory that the more we try to control children from the outside, the less they learn to regulate themselves from within.
Building skills for social and emotional awareness and skill should permeate every classroom and be encouraged in every child.  It’s  essential for their success in school and in life.  But testing these skills will only undermine that vital goal.
Eric Schaps/Founder, Developmental Studies Center: 
The challenge of assessing SEL skills in any affordable, feasible, large-scale way is that such assessments are — inevitably — vulnerable to social desirability and social pressure influences. Those vulnerabilities become all the greater as the assessments become high stakes and as pressures mount on schools to “look good.”
Linda Lantieri/ Educator and Author of Building Emotional Intelligence:
It is helpful to have a sense of how much progress is made when social and emotional learning is taught in schools. However there are other creative ways besides testing to do that. For example, schools could use Portfolio Assessment to assess competence. Students could reflect and journal over time on how they approach certain conflict situations  or how they strengthen certain relationships and discuss how they are using their learned SEL skills to do that. Progress in this area is best when assessment is used  for the purpose of self improvement and differentiation of instruction.
William Crain; Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York: 
For over three decades, many of us have been concerned about the impact of the standards movement on children’s emotions.  Increasing academic and testing demands, imposed at younger and younger ages, have been producing considerable stress.  What’s more, the single-minded focus on academics has crowded out important areas of children’s lives—artistic activities, the exploration of nature, and the development of social and imaginative capacities through play.   I have often felt that children frequently seem so lethargic and unhappy not only because they are stressed out, but also because they haven’t had a chance to develop their full potentials. Their development atrophies, and they feel stagnant.
Recently, some standards advocates have become more alert to children’s social and emotional problems and needs.  They want to teach and test for social-emotional skills.  But I doubt that their approach will work.
They, like the standards movement in general, assume that it’s up to us, as adults, to decide what children should learn.  Standards advocates fail to see that children have an inner drive to develop different capacities at different ages, and when given a chance to do so, children spontaneously engage in activities with great enthusiasm and perseverance.
Educators need to take a more child-centered approach, taking their cues from children, seeing what children themselves are ready and eager to learn.  If educators did this, they would find that children naturally develop a wide-ranging passion for learning–for books, nature, and people. Educators would see that children naturally stick with tasks they care deeply about.  The need to teach and test for social-emotional skills wouldn’t arise.
Lastly, for more thoughts on “grit” we point you to Alfie Kohn’s piece Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad.

 

 

Parents and Teachers say “NO!” ~ Testing Resistance Continues to Grow

Resistance to over-testing and high stakes testing continues to mount across the country. Here are some inspiring examples:

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones are two first-grade teachers from Tulsa, Oklahoma. These brave teachers have written an open letter to parents explaining why they are refusing to administer the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test to their students. Here is an excerpt from the letter that illustrates one child’s experience:
Student 1: This is one of the sweetest students a teacher could ask for. This student is gentle, calm, and collected. This student is learning English, but does not yet have any academic English. The student sat in front of the computer screen and tried his very best.  We watched his eyes well up with tears. We watched the student nervously pull at his hair.  Eventually, the student scratched red marks down his face in distress over the test.  He is the oldest of the siblings. He can cook, clean, and take care of a baby better than some adults. The student knows all of his alphabet and the letter sounds in English now. This student loves writing books and can dance like no other. He is now comfortable enough to get up in front of the class and perform a talent or recite a poem. This student scored in the 1% range.

Read more about their story in Valerie Strauss’ recent column Your children deserve better than this, first-grade teachers tell parents and read their full letter here.

In other news, our friends at FairTest shared these recent actions:

More than a ScoreAnd there is the just released More Than a Score edited by teacher and activist Jessie Hagopian:

More Than a Score is a collection of essays, poems, speeches, and interviews—accounts of personal courage and trenchant insights—from frontline fighters who are defying the corporate education reformers, often at great personal and professional risk, and fueling a national movement to reclaim and transform public education.

Along with the voices of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and grassroots education activists, the book features renowned education researchers and advocates, including Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Wayne Au, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Karen Lewis, Carol Burris, and Mark Naison. (from the website)

DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige will be joining Hagopian and some fellow contributors at the upcoming event on December 4th (see details below).

Thursday, December 4, 2014 – 7:00pm

First Parish Church at Harvard Square

1446 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

Join us for an exciting evening of discussion with . . .

Monty Neill, FairTest Executive Director
Alfie Kohn, Author/Activist
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Early Childhood Education Expert
Barbara Madeloni, Massachusetts Teachers Association President

and editor Jesse Hagopian, a leader of the successful Seattle Teacher Test Boycott

Sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools