Oklahoma PTA to Parents–OPT OUT of Field Tests

Earlier today, the following email was sent to select members of the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association (PTA). A similarly worded media statement was also released to Oklahoma media outlets. Both messages were distributed by PTA President Jeffery Corbett.

“At last year’s state convention, we took a strong stand against abusive high-stakes standardized testing and mass administration of field testing.


Today, I am asking you to take action against field testing!


This year’s 5th Grade and 8th Grade Writing Assessment will include a field test writing prompt. For this test, students are given one or more passages to read, and then they are expected to respond to a question in the form of an essay.


By adding a field test writing prompt, these students are being asked to double the amount of test writing they are completing. What’s wrong with that? How about:

  • The loss of classroom instruction time.
  • There is no benefit to the student, teacher, school, or district — they don’t receive any data on the field test.
  • Data from the field test is used to build more tests that the state then buys from the billion-dollar testing industry.
  • The testing companies profits rise — and our children provide them with free labor.

So, what can we do? OPT OUT!


Oklahoma PTA has asked the State Department of Education to identify the field test writing prompt. Once we hear back from them, we will share that information with you. We will also provide you with a downloadable form to take to your school to OPT OUT your 5th or 8th grader from the field test.


If we are to make an impact and take public education back from the testing companies, we must TAKE ACTION!


Please encourage your friends and family members to join us in this effort. We need all parents and guardians to take a stand and make their voice heard!


Our children deserve better! Thank you for joining PTA!


Jeffery Corbett, President
Oklahoma PTA

Today’s action on the part of the state PTA puts some sharp teeth into their adopted resolution against high stakes testing from this summer, in particular their opposition to field tests, or what the state department euphemistically refers to as item tryouts.

This letter has already drawn national attention, being shared on Diane Ravitch’s blog site this afternoon.

As Mr. Corbett references in his letter, Oklahoma schools have been advised that over 100,000 5th and 8th grade students will once again be asked to take two separate writing tests, one operational test and one field test. Most schools have scheduled these assessments for February 24 and 25, with makeups required to be completed before March 9th.

For each administration of the tests, schools will be required to have volunteer proctors, who we must train in advance, one for every classroom. For a large middle school like mine, we will need to recruit 45 proctors for each day, on the same days that our two intermediate schools are asking for volunteers for the administration of the fifth grade test. This is not an easy mission, but one that is required by state testing guidelines.

To this point, the assessment department has made it clear that schools will not be informed as to which test is which. Of course, they are concerned that IF the field test was identified, that large numbers of parents might choose to opt their children out, or students might simply “blow the test off,” thereby compromising the value of the data obtained from the testing.

The bottom line is that forcing all students to take the extra field test in not necessary for statistical reliability and validity. A traditional random sampling technique using as few as 10% of students could work. For comparison, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)–the test that policy makers use to sound the alarm of America’s public school failures–has a sample size of less than one-tenth of one percent of American freshman.  

Despite this incredibly small sample size of 6,000 students nationally, our government allocates billions of dollars to reforms based on international comparisons generated from the PISA results. So, again, why does our state continue the practice of field testing 100 percent of students? It is unnecessary and wasteful of time and resources.

Here is one simple solution. Well, it seems simple to me anyway. If the state department insists on giving these field tests, is it possible to simply have all students in a school take just ONE test? The students would be unaware if they were taking the field test or the operational test. In practice, this would translate to half of students taking each test. This would still provide data to schools on the collective writing competencies of their students while also providing data to the testing company and state department for the development of future tests. The 50% operational sample from the school could still be used in the A-F report card calculations.

If the test booklets are randomized by schools, another option is to have half of schools take one test and the other half take the other. If a school did not have operational writing scores for the A-F calculations, what would be the harm? Or, as Dr. Barresi did on her own last year, Superintendent Hofmeister could simply exclude the writing scores from all A-F scores.

The only down side is that 50% of students would not get a numerical score telling them how they did, albeit SIX months after the test and long after they even care. I think the kids will be okay.

How much is two or three hundred thousand hours of our students’ time worth anyway? How about thousands of teacher and parent volunteer hours? By participating in these stand-alone field tests, our state is donating a gift to the testing company literally worth millions of dollars. All for an assessment that is not mandated by federal law and could go away with a majority vote of the legislature this next session.


Some people are probably thinking: “What’s the big deal. We took tests while we were growing up too.”

Well, let me spell it out. Our students are over-tested to a degree that is destructive to students’ joy of learning and to the culture and overall mission of schools.  This is not hyperbole. I have played this game for 13 years now and have watched it happen before my eyes.

Consider this. At Jenks Middle School this year, ALL eighth grade students will be scheduled for between 11.5 and 14.5 hours of testing.  Further, if a student is randomly selected for the federal NAEP test and taking one or more high school EOI courses (which over half of my students do), this total could balloon to as many as 20 hours of state and federal testing, broken down as follows:

  1. ACT Explore test (ELA, reading, math, and science): 3 hours 
  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) –my school was “randomly selected” to participate: 3 hours
  3. State Writing OCCT paper test (operational): 2-2.5 hours
  4. State Writing OCCT paper test (field test): 2-2.5 hours
  5. State Science OCCT paper test: 1-1.5 hours
  6. State US History OCCT paper test: 1-1.5 hours
  7. State Reading OCCT online test: 1.5-2 hours
  8. State Mathematics OCCT online test: 1-1.5 hours
  9. End-of-Instruction Assessments online tests (students enrolled in HS courses, Alg I, Geom, Alg II, or Biology): 2-4 hours

For comparison, the ACT and SAT exams are administered in less than 4 hours. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is three hours. The Medical College Admission Examination is six hours. Even the dreaded Chinese Higher Education Entrance Examination (GaoKao) is only nine hours in length.

Yet, we are asking students as young as ten years old to take six different tests totaling 8-10 hours and eighth grade students, 7-10 tests lasting twice that long.

This does not even begin to capture the THOUSANDS of professional hours spent by counselors, teachers, test administrators, administrative assistants, technology specialists, and volunteers needed to pull off this herculean logistical endeavor, in EVERY school across Oklahoma.

As an Oklahoma school administrator, I am, of course, compelled by my statutory and contractual responsibilities to encourage every child to participate in all state mandated tests. At my school, every test for each and every student will be prepared and appropriately scheduled.

But this is a parent-led movement.  As such, I am also responsible to support a parent’s constitutional right to make academic decisions they believe are in the best interests of their children. Therefore, my school will also NOT force ANY child to sit for a test that his or her parent has said they are not to take.

With their action today, the leadership of Oklahoma PTA has taken a bold step on behalf of thousands of Oklahoma students. The ball is now clearly in the state department’s court. This could get interesting.

Please Make the Stupid People Shut Up!Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!
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