Dear Mr. Gates,
I am writing to respectfully request that you reevaluate your backing of education “reform” and the use of high stakes testing that goes with it. I am a mother of two middle school aged children and am currently in my last quarter of a master’s program before I start an internship as a professional school counselor. The last two years I have been studying and researching issues that affect students’ abilities to perform up to their potential in school. I have learned the importance of developmentally appropriateness of lessons, effects of socioeconomic status, multiculturalism, and use of assessments in diagnosing and assessing. All that I have mentioned directly relate to the use of standardized testing and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that call for it. First, the CCSS are untested as to their effectiveness and in some cases have been seen to be developmentally inappropriate to younger students. Second, it has been shown that there exists a wide achievement gap between low socioeconomic students and their more privileged peers; if we control for poverty, our students are among the top performers internationally. Third, the language on these tests is written in a way that represents the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant speech that may affect the ability of students to perform up to their full potential. Finally, assessments used to test a population need to be shown to be valid and reliable for the population that is being assessed; that cannot be said about these high stakes tests that have not been tested themselves.
I have also seen the ill effects of testing in my own family. High stakes testing can produce testing anxiety which effects the most vulnerable. My youngest suffers from anxiety. She is very bright and has a mind that amazes many. She has a vision that is incredible and is supported by what she is able to do with building sets of all kinds. At 12 years old she has taught herself to program a simple game on the computer. However, when testing time comes at school, and it comes far too often, she experiences anxiety that makes her doubt her abilities and leads her to experience a fear so great that she will often retreat and hide; literally.
My oldest is also extremely bright. School has always come easy to her and her ability to perform above average on these tests is never a concern. The problem arises when a girl who is already bored with school becomes even more jaded when the teacher is purposely and transparently teaching to the test. As a person with a Bachelor of Science in biotechnology, I understand that science is a linear subject. You cannot fully understand “C” without learning “A” and “B”. I was extremely upset this year when she told me her science teacher made the announcement that they would not cover “B” because it was not on the test.
I have been an advocate of my children’s education for their entire lives and have chosen to pursue the field of school counseling in order to act as an advocate for all students’ education. This is my way of advocating for my children and future students by asking you to take some time to really understand what you are doing by falsely believing that testing students multiple times a year is helping education; it is hurting it. I whole-heartedly believe that our educational system is not broken, but if you continue your push for high stakes testing it soon will be.
A concerned mother and future school counselor