On Wednesday, November 19 at 3 pm, the City Council of Philadelphia Committee on Education met in regard to Resolution 140666, to conduct hearings about standardized testing. The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools organized and scheduled the hearing around growing concern of the time, detriment, and costs of standardized testing in Philadelphia public schools. The following committee members were present for most of the testimonies: Jannie L. Blackwell (Chair), Blondell Reynolds-Brown (Vice-Chair), Maria D.Quionones-Sanchez, Brian J. O’Neill, Mark Squilla, W. Wilson Goode, and David Oh.
The first panel consisted of State Representative Mike Tobash, Jerry Jordan (PFT President) and Donna Copper, Executive Director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY). Jerry Jordan agreed that the presence and increase of testing encourages teachers to “teach to the test.” State Representative Tobash, R-Berks, confirmed that the testing and not the graduation requirement are federally mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The graduation requirement should be decided by the local districts. Later an education attorney explained that the law itself includes 3 options for graduations with the Keystone being one of them. He also stated that the lack of accommodations for children with 504’s and not IEP’s may lead to an increase in services and costs.
Throughout the room signs reading “Invest in learning not Testing” plastered on pencils and erasers symbolized the mood of the packed audience. The majority was there in support of eradicating unfair tests and testing policies. Four out of the originally seven scheduled panels spoke before dismissing.
Chris Shafer the Deputy Chief-Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the School District of Philadelphia had little to no knowledge of the costs attached to the Benchmarks and he consistently stumbled over his responses to the committee members. It is apparent that the office is understaffed and possibly ill-equipped to handle the addition of more testing. According to the graduation regulation, a student is eligible for supplemental education if they score below proficient on the Keystones and if they score below a second time they must complete a PBA (Portfolio Based Assessment). The problem is that there are no additional funds available for either, and the students who have already scored below proficient have received no supplemental education but are still expected to retest.
Meredith Broussard, a parent and data professor at Temple University, provided a detailed testimony describing how the tests can only be passed if a school purchases all of the books and workbooks from the same company that makes the exam. There are three companies including Houghton-Mifflin that grossed 1.38 billion dollars in revenue, yet the book budget for the 2014 school year at the School District of Philadelphia was $0. “Stop giving tests that are inextricably tied to specific books.” Squilla responded that it is, “lose lose about the Keystones.”
Tiffany Bhavnavi, an ESOL teacher at Furness High School gave a passionate testimony about why 90% of English Language Learners do not pass. The tests do little to describe who her students are and what they will be able to do upon graduation. She provided a scenario of living in another country and being asked to take an exam in the native language of the land within the first 6 months.
Two students from the Asian Americans United Students spoke to the stress, confusion, and heartache that the exams cause. One speaking in his native language moved the audience to tears as he described his horrific and arduous test taking process. Two audience members whispered, “This is child abuse” during his testimony.
Mark Miller from the Network for Public Education continued to explain how the tests in question are not diagnostic. “They do not promote skills our children and economy need. They are culturally bias” The tests do nothing but, “Enrich private enterprise.” Agustin Moroles, President of Holyhoke Teacher’s Association started with this poignant statement, “Were this the environment when I was growing up I would have dropped out.”
Council member Quionones- Sanchez stated that “Enough is enough. We are no longer going to label our kids.” The council suggested that the school district should refuse the testing and force the state’s hand. Next, it is time for the SRC and the council to come together and decide the best strategy in standardized testing before more children do not graduate or simply lose faith in education altogether.
The Opt out movement has started in Philadelphia. Most of the committee members are very supportive of getting rid of the standardized tests. If you are interested in finding out more information and how you can support please contact Alison McDowell at email@example.com. Parents have the power to opt their children out and we should all make sure that all of the students in Philadelphia Public Schools have the opportunity for an education rich in the arts, culture, literacy, math, science, social studies, foreign language and more, and not increased testing with flawed money making instruments.