Oklahoma PTA Votes to Boycott State Tests

Nate Robson reports in Oklahoma Watch that the Oklahoma Parent Teachers Association (PTA) has voted to boycott all non-federally mandated tests "in an attempt to pressure lawmakers to cut back the number of high-stakes tests students take." The PTA also asked that the state Department of Education not use the test scores to calculate school A-F grades, and called for the exemption of all schools from A-F grading if less than 95 percent of their students are tested.

As the Tulsa World's Andrea Eger reports, the Oklahoma PTA acted in "direct response" to its members' concerns about the Legislature's failure to reduce standardized testing. PTA President Jeff Corbett said, "Parents have had enough. Parents want more for their children than for them to be great test takers. The fact of the matter is this: Our children deserve better."

Corbett further explained, "In Oklahoma, we know what it is to respond to disaster -- and it is time that we responded to the disaster that high-stakes tests have made of our public education system."

A grassroots Opt Out movement and a bipartisan resistance to bubble-in accountability have demanded a state government response to the testing mania. Parents, students, and teachers rallied at the state Capitol but the legislature did not listen. So, Corbett promised, "Together, we will take our classrooms out of the wallets of the testing companies and turn them back over to our teachers."

Tracye Love, president of the Tulsa Council of PTAs, added, "We see the stress this causes students and parents and teachers -- all students are learning is how to pass the test." Moreover, Etta Taylor, who was voted president-elect of the statewide PTA organization at Friday's convention, said that the testing boycott was prompted by the narrowing of instruction students receive and "the host of unintended consequences."

Taylor cited the way tests are used as an unfair evaluation tool for teachers, and how the damage from inappropriate accountability metrics rolls down on children. The testing not only affects instruction in a negative manner, but also things like discipline. She said, "They are more likely to send a kid out if they are having issues because they've got to get as many kids to pass that test as possible."

I would add that the Oklahoma PTA hit a nice balance. It did not undermine the efforts of State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister to work with the rest of state government and the USDOE in crafting alternatives to test, sort, reward, and punish. The PTA did not ask students to boycott the End of Instruction (EOI) tests they need to graduate. But, they will boycott enough tests to throw a monkey wrench into the worst test-driven policies.

My sense, which grew stronger during last week's EngageOK state education conference, is that almost all of Oklahoma's stakeholders are disenchanted with test-driven reform. In conversations with district and state leaders, as well as educators, it seems that corporate school reform has been repudiated by liberals, conservatives, parents, students, educators, and local government representatives. It is the USDOE -- and its misuse of federal power through the NCLB waiver -- that is keeping output-driven reform on life support. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's term winds down, and after next spring's test boycott, it will clearly be time to pull the plug on the failed experiment. And, we will have parents, more than anyone else, to thank for freeing our children from the education malpractice known as "reform."

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