Sunday, May 21, 2017

Field Tests or Field Days: That is the Real High Stakes Question by Dr. Michael Flanagan

Back in the day, long before the push for high stakes testing, springtime was the sweet spot of the school year. The calendar would include things like field trips and field days. But now that public schools have become a for-profit testing market, children sit for field tests instead.  

Teachers and students across the country have been living under the pressure of high stakes testing for years. Here in New York, we have just completed the grades 3 - 8 ELA and Math Common Core assessments, brought to you by Pearson publishing. Students have also just taken MOSL exams, the NYSESLAT,  AP exams, SAT’s and PSAT’s, LOTE exams, and student surveys. These standardized exams are in addition to baseline and endline assessments, as well as teacher created tests, quizzes and final exams.

High school students, beginning the second week of June, will take the NYS Regents exams. All high school students need to pass five Regents exams in order to graduate. CTB McGraw-Hill has the contract to produce those standardized exams. Little known to most parents, on top of all these high stakes assessments, field tests are administered to many of our students.

Field tests are basically product development for private testing corporations, with our students being used as unpaid labor. Field test samples such as stand alone exams or embedded questions are designed by the publishing corporations to obtain statistics, norm student responses, and evaluate the test questions under testing conditions. Field tests take between three and six hours depending if there are students with disabilities who receive testing accommodations. The responses on the field tests are eventually used to evaluate students, teachers and schools.

Since the passage of NCLB in 2001, public schools throughout the country have had to meet federal accountability standards. Field tests are used throughout the country to create exams such as PARCC and the FCAT's. Student answers, especially written responses, are then used as the rubrics for grading the actual exams. Field tests do not in fact mean anything to a student’s grades. Their teachers never see their responses.  

How is it our children are being used in this for-profit endeavor? The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) -- one of the lobbying groups responsible for Common Core -- sponsors an annual national conference on student assessment. Companies like Pearson, CTB McGraw-Hill, Questar, the College Board and others decide how to make our children their tools. Their newest money maker of course is marketing for computer based testing. Putting pressure on school districts to spend money for testing software and computer upgrades, to accommodate more testing, in order to sell more products. Questar, in their manual about computer based testing, makes no mention of parents rights to opt-out, or the fact that our children are used as guinea pigs for their profits.

The New York State Office of State Assessment is responsible for the contracting and distribution of state assessments. The materials are largely available through EngageNY. The State Education Department selects school districts to administer the field tests. More than 87,000 students in 774 NYC public schools alone will be subjected to field testing for profit. There are approximately 22-25% of field test questions already embedded in the New York State Common Core exams. New York has a history of attempting to mislead the public about field testing. New York State law does not require school districts to participate in field tests but the education department and the lobbyists have tried repeatedly to make field tests mandatory. The reason being, if students know that the tests have no bearing on their grades, they are less likely to try their best. As of 2017 they are still not mandated. However, if you ask most parents they will have no clue their children will be sitting for three hours or more in May and June taking tests that do not count, in order for billion dollar corporations to profit from our tax dollars.

What is next? Will we now be allowing drug companies to use our children as lab rats for the marketability of a new drug? Or perhaps cosmetic companies can just spray chemicals in our kids eyes to see if a new makeup product is hypoallergenic? When did it become okay to put the interests of a corporation’s bottom line, over the welfare of our children?

The opt-out movement has been successful in New York. Activist groups such as NYSAPE (New York Allies for Public Education) have helped organize resistance to over testing. The NYSUT (New York State Union of Teachers) is also opposed to field testing. Parents can refuse to have their child take field tests. There are links to sample refusal letters for stand alone field tests. There are several school districts that do opt-out of field tests. Also, since almost 25% of New York’s Common Core questions are already embedded in the actual tests, that means students who are sitting for 18 hours over six days under high stakes testing conditions, spend four and a half of those hours answering questions that will not be used for their grade. That is four and a half hours our children could be learning something meaningful, instead of working for Pearson publishing for free.

What are the benefits to the students and teachers for taking field tests? Arguments could be made that high school students who must take the NYS Regents might benefit from the practice under testing conditions three weeks before they must sit for this year’s exam. However, that benefit must be weighed against the loss of class time for the teachers involved. And it must be weighed against the cost of paying teachers for lost prep periods spent on proctoring. There is no benefit for 3 - 8 grade students to sit for more testing, after just finishing 10 school days of Common Core and MOSL exams.

Our children are being used as free labor to norm exams that only serve three purposes: evaluating students, evaluating teachers and making corporate profit. Even in New York where the opt-out movement is strong, we have thousands of kids sitting at the end of the year for the benefit of corporations. This information about field testing is suppressed at the state, city and school levels, in order to maintain testing profits.  

Educators know that students thrive through actual learning; creativity, class presentations, discussions, projects, art and music. They are also enriched by taking part in arts festivals, theater productions, producing student films, performing in talent shows or poetry slams. Springtime should be for field days where students can compete, exercise and bond with each other. Where they have the opportunity to work as a team, and actually enjoy school.

Many schools still manage to include these enrichments in our children’s education, but that is in spite of the pressure to have students perform well on these high stakes tests. The end of the school year is supposed to be for celebrations and reflection, not for meaningless testing in order to ensure corporate profit.

When do we stand up for our children and not let them be used as fodder for the for-profit testing industry? #StopThisMadness


  1. We have Field Hour now. Sad times.

  2. is this also going on in WA state?

    there must be a way for 'the public' to take back education, expose and resist--can students be kept home for those 10 days to boycott these corporate, wall street tests? what about teacher, parents, student, community boards to make the decisions? what can I do in Bellingham, WA?