True stories from the North Carolina school testing season (formerly known as springtime)

Last month, Chelsea Bartel and I collaborated on an article sharing our personal reasons for refusing high stakes testing for our own children. Since that article, North Carolina Families for School Testing Reform has received an overwhelming and alarming barrage of stories and questions from parents and educators across North Carolina. We are sharing a few in order to ask all citizens to consider the effects of these tests; not only on your own children, but also on your neighbor’s child, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren.

By sharing these stories, we hope to increase awareness about the unpleasant realities of our children’s school experience. School leaders and educators have been forced to disregard educational research and in some cases, their conscience, in the name of “demonstrating growth and proficiency” according to a series of poorly conceived federal and state legislative policies. We hope that raising awareness will bring greater understanding and compassion for the children, families, public schools, and educators in North Carolina. We hope that a greater sense of compassion will bring more compassionate policies.

Here are some of the stories we received:

“[My child] received her score of a 2 in [Reading].  Heartbroken and crying she called herself stupid, [and] asked if she was going to have to take the test again, or the grade again as it was not a passing score.”– Parent of a NC 5th grader

“…there are MANY families that are still displaced and trying to put their lives back together… Sure, they shortened the test time from 3 to 2 hours, but half the kids did not finish and needed the extra hour because they did not shorten the amount of questions enough to accommodate the new time, so it was still a three hour test.”-Parent from “an area of NC that was hit hard by Hurricane Florence”

“Both of my kids loved reading as young children, but as soon as they hit elementary school and every single thing they read was associated with an assessment or test of some kind, they began to hate it.”-Parent of two NC public school children

“I’m heading out the door in a few minutes to go give the 68-question, 5-Constructed Response, 4-hour English 2 EOC for the third day in a row. This test measures NOTHING but endurance and weeding out undesirable zip codes and children of immigrants. Over 1/2 of my kids speak English as their second language… They’re still kids, but we’re trying really hard to take all that away” -Current 10th grade English teacher, central NC

“…a month before testing, studying for EOG testing began all while still having homework and regular classwork was still going on.  My son was coming home having emotional meltdowns daily. The stress was so high he began picking at his arms and legs as a stress relief again to cope… I see so many of my son’s teachers struggling to hold on to the love they have for this job”-Parent of a 10 year old autistic child

“While teaching in a public school, many of my students achieved over two years of growth, but few passed standardized tests. I switched to a charter school with high test scores, hoping that it would be a place where I could become a better teacher. It ended up being a place where I learned to boost test scores but forgot how to connect with tough students.”-Former NC elementary school teacher

“One student spent fifteen minutes decoding the sample questions with the help of a Rwandan dictionary.” -Current high school teacher, central NC

Children were “called… to line up in the hall if they received a 2 or below because they have to be re-tested.   Children were called out right in the classrooms.”-Anonymous, Union County, NC

“…to the state of NC [my son] is just another number but to me he is everything as he is my only child.  I had an amniotic fluid embolism with his birth and that is why he has special needs.  We both almost died during his birth and I have made it my mission to be his advocate and I just want him to have a chance to be a productive member of society and be as independent as possible.” -Parent of a western NC child suffering isolated seizures during test administration

These stories tell of loss, and they could be from any of our one hundred counties. There are children who lost their confidence. There are children who lost their intrinsic love of reading. There are children who lost their homes. There are children who are experiencing both mild and severe physical and emotional symptoms from the stress and anxiety associated with high-stakes testing. It is up to the adults to mitigate these many losses; but first, we have to lose our attachment to the myth that standardized tests can remedy the entrenched, systemic inequities in our communities, and we must also lose the harmful policies that rely on this myth.

Jen Bourne wrote this piece in collaboration with North Carolina Families for School Testing Reform. We appreciate all those who stepped forward to raise their voices and concerns.
For more information or to share your story, please visit us on Facebook or our website: #FewerTestsFairerTestsFruitfulTests

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