Parents testing protest gaining attention
SNOHOMISH - The parents of more than 100 students in the Snohomish School District have decided in recent weeks that they will “opt out” of having their children take the state’s standardized test.
The “opt-out” movement is a statement against what Snohomish parents group We Support Schools calls inadequate and wasteful state education spending, said member Michelle Purcell, who has three children enrolled in Snohomish schools.
Purcell’s children are among the growing number of students whose parents have decided they will not be taking this year’s Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) test.
The MSP is given to students in grades three through eight.
“Parents need to be an advocate for their children and in this day and age that might mean they’ll have to be political activists. I think more and more parents are realizing that this is what they need to do to get their voices heard,” Purcell said.
The group has been educating parents by forming a Facebook page, speaking in people’s homes and talking to the media about why their children aren’t going to take the MSP.
In addition to being too expensive, the tests aren’t returned until the following year when students have already started a new class with a new teacher and possibly a new school, Purcell said.
“(The test is) not benefitting our student learning and it takes away several days of instructional time,” she said.
Protesting the test is intended to draw attention to the faults of the state’s education system.
The parents want tests that give parents and teachers feedback sooner, that are more cost effective and don’t waste as much time.
“We know they’re out there,” Purcell said. “There’s lots of different assessments out there” that fulfill federal requirements.
The MSP is the state’s answer to the federal requirements under No Child Left Behind, a law signed by President George W. Bush that requires districts to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals.
Each state is left to determine how it will show whether it meets the AYP requirements.
Washington’s solution, MSP, goes “above and beyond the federal requirements,” Purcell said, contributing to the test’s cost. The MSP will be given to students later this month and in early May.
The state spends about $30 per student per test for standardized testing in the state, said Kristen Jaudon, spokeswoman for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Students are tested on a different mix of subjects at each grade level, which could be anywhere from one to three tests, costing the state up to $90 per student, Purcell said.
The bigger issue is state education spending in general, she said — parents want to have a voice in the economic decisions that directly affect their children’s education.
The parent group is grateful the MSP is being phased out soon, Purcell said.
A new test will more accurately compare one district to the next, and one state to another, and offer students a chance to use their test results for improvement.
Several states, including Washington, have voluntarily signed up to use the “common core standards,” a set of criteria identified by the states that can be applied nationwide.
Washington is one of more than 40 states signed up to measure students against the common core standards using a test called SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
Having core standards for the whole country will improve standardized testing, but parents are still concerned about how the test will look once it’s fully developed.
It’s possible the test will cost half as much as the MSP, Purcell said.
“It’s going to be a huge savings. Part of our group’s message is that over the last three years in the Snohomish School District alone we’ve had $10 million worth of cuts in education that have caused our class sizes to grow, our teachers to have been cut,” and cuts to custodial services and transportation, she said.
“I don’t think there’s one aspect of our district that hasn’t been negatively affected by these cuts and parents are starting to see the impacts on their children,” Purcell said.
Parents started writing letters and calling their legislators, but they felt ignored, she said.
That’s when the idea came about to opt out of the standardized tests.
“This opt-out got their attention and that’s what the parents are wanting; they want to be heard,” Purcell said.
The movement has attracted attention from several state lawmakers in the region, including Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who said he supports the group’s tactics because the tests are a waste of time that could be spent actively teaching and learning.
“I think these parents are on to a way to pressure lawmakers to decrease the amount and focus on testing,” Dunshee wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune.
Additionally, Reps. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens and John McCoy, D-Tulalip, are crafting legislation to address some of the parents’ concerns, such as eliminating non-federally mandated testing and making it so students wouldn’t have negative consequences for opting out.
Parents from around the country have contacted We Support Schools for information on their movement, Purcell said.
“I think it’s just reinforcing that this isn’t just a Washington issue. It’s something that parents are struggling with all over we’re finding out,” she said.
Purcell also was heartened by the Legislature’s budget decisions in the special session that ended last week.
The Legislature wrapped up with no additional cuts to education funding, which Purcell said she took as a sign that the tide is turning in students’ favor.
The state did not replace any funding from previous cuts, but “the parents feel they’re being heard now,” she said. “We want to see that our legislators are making decisions that are leading us toward fully funding education,” Purcell said.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published April 18, 2012