Testimony to the CPS Truancy Task Force

I prepared testimony for one of two public hearings held by the Chicago Public Schools Truancy Task Force, a body mandated by state legislation. The meeting, held in a bank community room on the South Side, attracted more than 150 people, most of whom (including myself) were not given a chance to speak due to the very leisurely manner in which the chair conducted the meeting resulting on only 45 minutes of a 2-hour meeting actually consisting of public comment.

I was able to submit my testimony as written. Here are some excerpts:

Since 1996, the Chicago Public Schools has used various standardized tests as high-stakes measures first just for students, for their promotion after grades 3, 6 and 8, and, more recently as high-stakes measures for teacher, principal and school evaluation. My purpose in testifying here today is to share some concerns about the connection between the high-stakes testing and over-testing of our students and student motivation, truancy and drop out

My comments today will highlight some points raised in three scholarly reports, and offer some recommendations.

The first report is the 2003 paper, “The Effects of High-Stakes Testing on Student Motivation and Learning,” by Audrey L. Amrein and David C. Berliner.

The authors pose the question “Do high-stakes testing policies lead to increased student motivation to learn? And do these policies lead to increased student learning? No, according to four independent achievement measures.”

They add, “The evidence shows that such tests actually decrease student motivation and increase the proportion of students who leave school early. Further, student achievement in the 18 high-stakes testing states has not improved on a range of measures, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, despite higher scores on the states’ own assessment.”

The second report is the 2000 study, “High Stakes Testing and High School Completion,” by Clarke, Haney and Madaus. The conclusion of this report is that “high stakes testing programs are linked to decreased rates of high school completion.”

Some of the report’s finding:

  • In schools with proportionately more students of low socio-economic status that used high stakes minimum competency test, early drop out rates – between eighth and tenth grades – were 4 to 6 percentage points higher that in schools that were similar but for the high-stakes test requirement.”
  • Students who performed poorly on the Florida high school graduation tests were more likely to leave school, but that this relationship was affected by students’ grades…for students with moderately good grades, failure on the test was associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of dropping out of school.
  • Research findings in Texas suggest that because of the requirement that student pass graduation tests as well as other grade-level exit tests, some 40,000 of the state’s 1993 sophomores dropped out of school.
  • Research on the effects of grade retention has generally concluded that, at least beyond the early elementary grades, its harms outweigh its purported benefits, in particular, being overage for grade as a results of being held back eats away at students’ sense of academic worth. The impact is especially severe for black students.

A third report is the 2000 “What can Student Drawings Tell Us About High-Stakes Testing in Massachusetts?” by Wheelock, Bebell and Haney. Their conclusion is that the majority of drawings portrayed students as “anxious, angry, bored, pessimistic, or withdrawn from testing.”

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