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Michelle Coelho told school officials Monday night that her second-grader is so stressed out about assessment tests that she gets up in the middle of night and says, “I have to look over my study guide.”
Standing before the Caroline County School Board, Coelho said her daughter is a student at Bowling Green Elementary School and four weeks out of the first 10 weeks were spent taking six assessment tests to evaluate reading level. “My child lost out on four weeks of instruction.
“There is over-testing in our schools,” Coelho told the board. “These kids are 7 or 8 years old, and they’re developing test anxiety. Can you imagine having test anxiety as an elementary student? These children are being tested so much that they do not want to go to school. They wake up in the middle of the night, crying and wanting to get out of bed to study for a placement test.
“I’m here tonight to take a stand against the over-testing our students endure,” Coelho said.
She complained that the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) test is a “cash cow” for the Caroline school system, which gets funding based on the results of the tests.
PALS provides a comprehensive assessment of young children’s knowledge of the literacy fundamentals that predict future reading success. Used by schools in all 50 states and several foreign countries, it is the universal screening tool for Virginia’s Early Intervention Reading Initiative (EIRI) and is used by 99 percent of school divisions in the state on a voluntary basis.
The state requires schools to administer the Standards of Learning (SOL) test. The children in Caroline elementary schools also take another assessment test, STAR, which used to mean “Standardized Test for the Assessment of Reading.” This has changed because the company has created STAR assessments for skills in math. Caroline elementary school students take STAR reading and math tests.
They take another reading assessment, the Foutnas and Pinnell.
“I am astonished that we are administering six different reading placement tests during one nine week period,” Coelho said.
“Another point that baffles my mind is the fact that we are giving four math assessment tests” to second graders, Coelho told the board.
In addition, third graders have benchmark tests in reading, math, science and social students, said Naeda Gustard, who has a third-grade daughter at Bowling Green Elementary School.
“We’re at the cross-roads regarding over-testing,” Gustard told the School Board. “We must make sure we have a strong curriculum, but I’m witnessing over-stressed children with test anxiety. My child has to take tests with 43 questions and it takes hours to finish. I feel like my child is not being taught—just being tested.”
Both mothers drew an applause from the audience in the auditorium at Caroline Middle School during the School Board meeting.
George Spaulding, chairman of the School Board, told the parents at the meeting that school officials “are looking into” the testing program.
Later in the meeting while Coelho and Gustard were still in the audience, Nancy Carson, vice chairperson of the School Board, asked fellow school officials what schools are getting out of the assessment tests. “It’s just overwhelming,” she said. “Instead of testing more, they should test better.”
Dr. Rebecca Broaddus, clerk of the School Board, said, “We are reviewing the test schedule. We want to make it the best possible test environment. We will work with the teachers to see what is in the best interest of the students.”
After the meeting, Gustard said during testing, teachers must “take their specials away—fun things like gym and music.” Lunch for her daughter is normally at 11:40 a.m., but the tests are administered from 8:50 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.—making lunch nearly an hour late.
“There’s no recess for those who haven’t finished their benchmark test,” she said. “The high-achieving children will get recess. But those who take longer to read will not get a recess.
“My daughter gets so hungry. She told me, ‘I kept telling the teacher I was so hungry.’ She’s 8 years old and she’s sitting in front of a computer screen for hours.’
“They have to be extra quiet in the hallways during testing,” Gustard said. “The teachers and principals are under pressure and that filters down to the children. I don’t like the pressure we are putting on the children at such a young age. I want them to enjoy learning. They won’t ever remember education being fun. When they reach high school, they will not want to continue their education.
“It’s not just my child,” Gustard said. “In the beginning, I thought we were the only ones having a problem. Then I found out we had a bigger issue. I found other parents whose children were excelling so much at first and now their self-esteem has gone down and they are not excelling the way they once were.”
Gustard said her daughter no longer enjoys reading. “She’s just given up. Even when she gets an A, she just doesn’t care. She’s checked out of school at age 8. She enjoyed reading last year. This year, I can’t get her to pick up a book.”
All this testing is not necessary, Gustard said. “Our teachers are on the front lines. A teacher knows after a half of a year who is going to the next grade. They are the professionals.”