Cancel the F**king Tests!

Last week in this space I put forth nine reasons why it was absolutely essential that students be required to take machine-scored, multiple-choice bubble tests once they return to school. This was an entirely facetious essay that maintained, among other things, that NOT giving tests would cause an economic recession but that GIVING tests would make it easier for students to social distance because they would be chained to their desks for hours.

Because a few readers thought I was being serious, I thought it might be helpful to try to state directly and clearly how I really feel. Let me put it in caps, the typed equivalent of shouting from the rooftop, to make things perfectly clear: REQUIRING TESTS THIS SPRING WOULD BE CHILD ABUSE! Because this school year has been unpredictable, abnormal, and inconsistent, why would anyone expect anything but skewed (screwed up) data from mandatory tests, particularly because students who have been ‘remotely schooled’ all year do not have to take the tests, and no one is clear yet about how the tests would be administered to students now attending remotely? It’s a disaster waiting to happen, and anyone who cares about children should be demanding that the tests be cancelled.

When running for the Democratic nomination, candidate Biden told an audience of teachers in Pittsburgh that he was strongly opposed to mandated high-stakes testing. I was there and heard his pledge.

But in February of this year, President Biden’s Education Department said that states must give the tests mandated by ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, although the proclamation allowed states to request waivers and created some loopholes. Since that surprise announcement, many activists have been pressuring the Biden Administration to reverse the decision–and to keep his promise. No luck so far!!

Covid-19 revealed the depths of the inequalities in our society, including in public education, and we don’t need bubble tests to prove the point. You can find thoughtful discussions here and here.

The education historian turned activist Diane Ravitch summarized the problems with ever giving these machine-scored, multiple-choice bubble tests, whose scores, by the way, largely reflect the test-taker’s zip code, family income, and parental education :

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

I gave this post the title “Cancel The F**king Tests!”, but in case that doesn’t happen, I hope (SHOUTING NOW) that parents and their children will BOYCOTT THE F**KING TESTS!”

Here’s a useful guide from FairTest on how to boycott them.

5 thoughts on “Cancel the F**king Tests!

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this. I was such a dork. And I just began reading your work, and really thought you were serious.

    As a parent, these tests are disruptive, exhausting, and do not reflect my kids learning.


  2. Thanks John. Great piece. Yes i put up your hilarious and facetious piece on FB – got a very earnest response from a friend begging to differ – the tests aren’t good! I had to explain. Ah, is satire dying in our world? Maybe another result of crazy news cycles . .. . Anyway, thanks for this. . . .


  3. Yes BUT…..Biden’s Secretary of Education won’t cancel the federal mandate to test.

    John, there is a more fundamental argument to make but not one that many are willing to admit in public. The tests that the states give all too often are ones that state legislatures are willing to appropriate the money to buy, basically test superficial knowledge, typically don’t test at all in “unimportant” subjects like history, civics, serious American history, and even important areas in science, believe it or not. I’d feel differently about the tests if they actually test what the prevailing national standards say that students are supposed to know and be able to do – but they don’t. If states REQUIRED even ONE serious Civics course and knowledge test, the country’s politics – both Right and Left – would hold political leaders to accountability more effectively than is now the case. T he country is in trouble, and what are the schools doing about it?


  4. Dear Sir:

    I am a classroom teacher in the trenches. Now of course I am teaching students as if they were on a distant moon or Mars or in space. I have done virtual teaching since March 18 2020. All I will say is that it is better than in March 2020 and it is better than nothing. But it should go without saying that online technology creates a barrier or affective filter that discourages and impedes comprehension and learning. No one would think to try to teach a foreign language by phone or merely via emails. Students who do not hear well, comprehend aural English and who do not type or word process quickly and accurately are at severe disadvantage.

    All that side we are doing VIRTUAL testing of the English Proficiency Tests this year (via ETS) We teachers have to learn a test interface for distant testing.
    Students have to use a special ten digit student # for the ELPAC they cannot past this number nor can it be sent via email. Students must have the APP for the secure test browser on their Chromebook or computer
    If they don’t they are out of luck. Even so even with a school Chromebook technical difficulties are not unusual especially due to the quality of the internet connection. The Secure Test Browser requires a fast and continuous Internet speed.
    Then students have to use their first name (first letter capitalized)
    type in there unique student ID # for the ELPAC
    then type in a unique session # for their grade level or the reading, writing and listening test they are doing. Believe me this is complicated If one thing goes wrong or the internet is slow everything crashes.
    So far 40 % of students in my class have not been able to log on even to begin a test.
    Of those who have tested only about 30% have finished all the required tests. Some are incomplete because the test froze while they were testing. Some are incomplete because despite numerous attempts day after day during class and after school they could not log on via their chromebooks.

    I am a good soldier. I try to do my best. I monitor for HOURS (often after my regular school day) WITHOUT ANY PAY to make sure the students can finish tests. Sometimes I have to spend 3, 4, 5, 6 hours monitoring ELPAC my camera and their camera MUST BE ON and IS RECORDED so that students can finish the test. I have taken to having my ,lunch and coffee during testing because it is too much trouble to log off or pause the test.

    And of course the students have to sign a form that they can’t use any materials or phones or aides during the test. But let’s be honest I can see the person who is front of the camera and I recognize that person. I montior what they are doing and how long they do it. But such a test is NOT SECURE. Really it should be considered INVALID.

    It is HORRIBLE how much school time is spent merely on test prop for EL PAC all readings all assignments mimic the ELPAC and that is all we do. But don’t forget we have to give other tests like the STAR READING test (fortunately a snap to take and administer just a link no layers of “security”)

    But the word is the State of California has paid millions for these tests and ETS is desperate that they tests be given because they want them to be renewed for next year and the year after that.

    It would be logical to suspend this testing in this plague year. We could have easily done practice tests to familiarize students for a future year and left it at that.

    But soon my journey of the cross will be over and so will the Calvary of the students.. In April and May we will dedicate ourselves to literature (Homer) and poetry (including Shakespeare). I have Audible books on tape and electronic versions of all the books and poems. Students will listen and recite proverbs and poems to improve their diction and they will write short responses to literature and keep vocabulary notebooks.

    But it appears they will remain on a distant moon and I on my distant spaceship. Some students will report to classrooms (computer labs) with teacher aides but most will continue distance learning from home.

    As I said , it is better than nothing but the truth is the Matthew effect is quite evident. The Rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Without constant supervision and close encouragement, many students are distracted and demoralized. For many the entire year has been a loss. Poles and Jews in forced labor camps during WWII have learned more. And I am sure that you are away how disastrous it was for youth to lose out on education from 1940-1945. Covid 19 has been as bad as war and worse than the Great Depression.

    I only hope schools will return to normal by Fall. There is a future for distance learning, of course. But it works best with fluent, motivated mature and highly motivated students.

    It is a poor choice for k-6, for English Learners, for neophyte foreign language learners, immature, easily distracted and marginally motivate students. If a student has a poor home environment then that student does not even have the advantage of a bright, clean, secure environment


    But no one pays any attention to me. So I carry on as in the Ypres Salient and do my duty.

    But I mourn the massive casualties all about me. Some students are being destroyed have been discouraged and have dropped out. Many are working in the field, in packing sheds in kitchens etc.
    Sincerely, RICHARD K MUNRO

    Liked by 1 person

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