Parents hold power in high-stakes testing debate, state Rep. Katie Henke and educators say

TulsaWorld

Parents possess the most clout in the growing fight over the use of high-stakes tests in public education. That was the common message at a panel discussion Tuesday evening featuring State Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, and two teachers and a mother of two from Tulsa’s Skelly Elementary School. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World file

By ANDREA EGER

Parents possess the most clout in the growing fight over the use of high-stakes tests in public education.

That was the common message at a panel discussion Tuesday evening featuring State Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, and two teachers and a mother of two from Tulsa’s Skelly Elementary School.

Almost 40 people jammed into a small meeting room at the Brookside Library for the public discussion of “The Testing Environment in Oklahoma and Where We Go From Here,” hosted by the Oklahoma Coalition Against High-Stakes Testing.

“Get into contact with anyone and everyone,” Henke said. “It is really hard to ignore hundreds and thousands of parents.”

Henke made waves as a freshman legislator last year when she successfully led the effort to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill to allow a third-grader’s parents, teachers and school administrators to decide whether “probationary promotion” to fourth grade is appropriate even if the student scored too low on the state reading test.

But Henke explained that during that legislative fight, she had to agree to a compromise — that the bill would “sunset,” or expire, after this school year.

When a parent asked what could be done to make that parent-educator committee process permanent, Henke responded that she would sponsor a bill to do just that in the upcoming session and that she’s hopeful about the future.

“There is a group of legislators that is growing every year at the Capitol that wants to focus on empowering our parents and on instruction time and ensuring that we’re not taking the joy out of learning,” she said.

“I fully understand that we have been prohibiting that with over-regulation. Everyone wants to make sure when you’re using taxpayer dollars that there is accountability and that kids are on track, … but there is too much.”

Miller, meanwhile, was investigated a few years ago by former State Superintendent Janet Barresi and her administration for possible revocation of his Oklahoma education certificate after hundreds of parents of Jenks Middle School students asked that their eighth-graders be opted out of field tests used to evaluate questions for future use by testing companies.

He described profound changes in instruction, school climate and even student expectations that have occurred since the federal No Child Left Behind Act dramatically expanded the use of standardized testing.

At his school alone, more than 7,500 individual tests will be administered this academic year.

He compared the 10½ hours of total testing his eighth-graders undergo to the 5½-hour MCAT entrance exam for medical schools.

“That is ridiculous. We are testing kids to death. We are testing out the joy of learning. The discovery, all of the project-based learning we used to do at the end of the year to get kids engaged and excited is all pushed aside,” Miller said.

He likened individual students to individual kernels of popcorn in a microwave bag.

“They were in the same bag, in the same microwave, for the same amount of time,” he said. “Some popped early; some popped late; some popped very late. Some didn’t pop at all. That’s normal. This is just a case of normal and predictable variation. … Imagine the complexity of a human.

“It is my fervent hope one day, that we as Americans finally come to the conclusion that a standardized test is a terrible way to measure the potential of a human being.”

Also present were Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren, first-grade teachers at Skelly Elementary School in east Tulsa who made Tulsa World headlines in November after writing an open letter to parents detailing the emotional and behavioral tolls, as well as the expense of instructional time, new tests and the surveys were causing their young pupils.

They said one of the few people at their school to stand with them has been Skelly parent Regina Kelly, whose two children are in the second and sixth grades.

Kelly said she and her husband have begun drafting an opt-out letter for their sixth-grader for the upcoming state tests and informed school administrators that they do not want their children to participate in any more surveys for use on teacher evaluations because of the personal nature of some of the questions.

“Talk to your children about testing. Talk about testing with your children’s teachers,” she urged other parents. “I’m not against testing; I’m against high-stakes testing. I’m against surveys that ask prying questions.”

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