Dear Bill and Melinda,
I have been a teacher for 25 years. I am also the parent of two daughters, ages 18 and 29. I have seen from both sides of the schoolhouse door how the absolute obsession with standardized testing has affected our children.
Both of my daughters are excellent readers and were designated TAG (Talented and Gifted) in reading while in elementary school. When my oldest daughter was in elementary school during the 1990s, reading was taught holistically. Stories and novels were read with an emphasis on enjoying the literature. Ideas and opinions were discussed with an emphasis on exploration of different points of view. Sometimes there was even an agreement to disagree on what the author meant. This daughter has always loved reading and currently belongs to two book clubs.
My youngest daughter arrived in her kindergarten classroom the year that NCLB was enacted. As she went through school, her experience with reading was very different. Reading was leveled by “ability”. Every story or novel was accompanied by vocabulary drills and right or wrong answers. By sixth grade, my younger daughter, who loved stories when she was little, no longer read for enjoyment. She declared that she hated reading. Reading was a chore to her. Just now, as her senior year has drawn to an end and the pressure is off, is she starting to believe that maybe books can be her friends after all and again read just for fun. It makes me incredibly sad.
I have seen the love for learning stomped out of multitudes of children since this regimen of “rigor” and testing has begun. I work in a school that has a high population of second language learners and students who live in poverty. Year after year, perfectly capable children come to believe that they are stupid because they did not pass one test. They cry. They avoid. They give up. By fifth or sixth grade, many already believe they will not graduate from high school, that they are already failures.
We have plenty of data, and what that data tells us is that children who live in poverty and children who are English Language Learners generally do not score as well on standardized tests as those from English speaking, upper middle class backgrounds. More than a decade of testing children has not changed this. New research is coming out from universities across the country indicating that not only is this testing regimen not helpful, it may in fact be harmful. And yet we, you, your foundation, continue to spend vast amounts of money on these testing regimens. Why? And exactly how much is it? Would it be enough to restore PE, the arts, provide for smaller class sizes? These are the things our students need. They don’t need new more rigorous “standards” and new tests to accompany them.
I invite you to come to my classroom. It’s not far from Seattle. See how my 6th graders at our dual language immersion school are fully bilingual. None of the tests they take reflect that valuable skill. Visit the homes of my students. Witness their daily struggles. See how some of them live with dental pain; with hunger; with having to stay home to care for younger siblings who are sick so their parents can go to work. They can’t afford to miss work: they live too close to the edge, even though they work many hours a day. Perhaps there are other things your money could buy for these kids that would improve their educational outcomes besides promoting more testing.
As someone who apparently loves data, it seems that you should be able to look at the data and studies and see that none of this testing has accomplished its stated goal. Why then, would your foundation double down on it instead of investing in things that have been proven to work, like smaller class sizes? Like access to affordable medical and dental care? Like daycare for children of the working poor? Why would you invest in such a destructive, unproven methodology? It makes me question whether your true motive is helping students succeed or personal profit.
I have two grandsons. One is in second grade, the other in preschool. I want this changed for them, and for all the students I teach every day. Stop supporting high stakes, standardized tests.