• Deb Mayer

Audit the SBAC - Parent Voices

In 2015, Representatives Lew Frederick and Shemia Fagan sponsored House Bill 2713 ordering the Secretary of State to conduct an audit "related to the use in the public schools of this state of statewide summative assessments." In other words, the state is required to audit the SBAC -- the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test -- which many would argue is neither smarter nor balanced. The bill ends with the declaration: "This 2015 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, as an emergency is declared to exist . . ." In truth, many, many bills passed in Oregon end with that declaration, but in this case an emergency does exist. It involves the looting of our tax dollars to propagate an invalid, unreliable brutal testing culture that abuses children, families, and education faculty and staff. This report is not a critique of the SBAC -- that would require a much more in-depth conversation. This report is a record of information provided to the audit committee by parents to assist in identifying the cost of the SBAC.

In January, in response to a letter of concern from member Pat Eck, Parents Across America Oregon (PAAO) received a phone call from the audit team which was to be headed by Sherrone Blasi. We were told that the "Audit the SBAC committee" was forming and would be in contact with us in the near future. We had many questions for them about procedures and the scope of the study, but the committee held that information close to the vest and offered little insight into how the study would be conducted except to say that teachers and student would also be interviewed. A parent survey was also distributed through the PTA. On April 14th, 2015, PAAO was contacted again and invited to provide information about the cost of the test from the parent point of view. Caroline Zavitkovski, KC Jones, Kristine McCants conferenced by phone with Deb Mayer who shared input from Pat Eck, Jan Eck, Rex Hagans, and many other Portland parents. PAAOregon completed this final report at the end of the 2015-2016 school year and submitted it to the committee.

Although the law asks for information on the fiscal, administrative, and educational impacts of the tests, PAAO asked the committee to also consider the mental, emotional, and cultural impacts on individuals, friend and family relationships, and community. Included here is a truncated version of the information Parents Across America Oregon gleaned from parents and shared with the Audit the SBAC committee. The committee's official report is due out September 15, 2016.

Actual invoice costs of SBAC

  • Former Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton has been quoted as saying the actual dollar amount spent on SBAC is anywhere from $12 million to $27 million dollars, a sizable increase over the previously administered OAKS test said to have cost $7 million. What is the true dollar amount spent on SBAC for each of the years the test has been given in the state of Oregon? Include the per pupil cost of the test itself, proctoring, grading, retesting, communicating results, and in addition, itemize other cost directly related to the test.

  • What is the cost of resource materials purchased for both teachers and students to support SBAC?

  • What is the actual dollar amount spent to train teachers on how to proctor the test? Include any "professional development" that teachers are required to participate in to administer the tests.

  • What is the cost of substitute teachers for the test-related hours (days) classroom teachers were out of class?

  • In January, 2016, OEA president Hannah Vaandering told Symposium attendees that the SBAC was neither valid nor reliable, but the consortium had been invited back to "fix" that. How much does the fix cost? If such a thing can be fixed, how much has the state been billed? Was the test fixed before it was given in the 2015-2016 school year? If not, what is the cost of giving an invalid test?

Skyrocketing Technology Costs

  • What are the technology costs related to SBAC testing? How much is spent on computers to support testing?

  • Computer labs and entire libraries are dedicated to SBAC during testing season at many schools. What is the cost in lost learning when students can't have access to books and the Internet because of weeks and months of testing?

  • There seems to always be money for technology and software when there is money for little else. Is the testing culture dictating school and district spending? How do we calculate the opportunity costs related to the favored testing agenda?

Poverty, Race, Cultural Bias, and Pushouts (Suspensions and Expulsions)

  • The Impact of Poverty, Race, and Cultural Bias on Educational Opportunity (July 2015) (PAA) presents data that exposes the price children pay when standardized test scores are the key measurement of success.

  • The basis of standardized testing is embedded in eugenics and is unfairly biased against students of color. (More than a Score) by Jesse Hagopian.) How do you put a price tag on that?

  • The correlation between poverty and school achievement cannot be denied. Numerous studies show that providing children with the necessities of life including housing, food stability, and healthcare are imperative to assure success at school. Covering the cost of these services to level the "testing field" seems to be a fair and logical step in assuring that all students are prepared for success at school. Should those costs be considered?

  • Testing has not closed the “achievement gap” between African American and white students. Since the mantra of the USDOE/ODE has consistently been that rigorous standardized testing is needed to close the achievement or opportunity gap, when do we finally stop and say, "Enough is enough! We will not waste another cent on this folly." SBAC is not valid, reliable, or fair. Over 100 Education Researchers Sign Statement Calling for Moratorium on High-Stakes Testing, (SBAC/California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education.)

  • Rebelling against the test curriculum results in many more students being suspended or expelled from school. The number of kindergarten suspensions has skyrocketed -- especially for African American boys. Wages lost and the cost of alternative childcare arrangements is an extra cost that parents cannot afford and is directly related to the testing curriculum.

  • High school students who do not pass the SBAC are more likely to drop out of school. The cost of completing a GED or attaining further future education can be attributed to punitive standardized tests.

  • Inane standardized testing policies have contributed to a school-to-prison pipeline culture. The costs of incarceration amounts to much more than properly educating a child. This cost may be an unintended consequence of SBAC, but it is a cost related to the test nonetheless.

Developmentally Inappropriate Tests

  • The position paper, Parents Stand up Against Test Stress (July 2015 rev. Feb 2016) (PAA) underscores the developmentally inappropriateness of SBAC. (References for How high-stakes standardized testing is harming our children's mental health. Updated January 2016) The cost of doctors’ visits and therapy resulting from stress and anxiety over tests and a test-driven curriculum is costly for parents. Parents, teachers, administrators, and mental health professionals report a rise in test-related symptoms that include nausea, dizziness, crying, vomiting, panic attacks, asthma attacks, tantrums, headaches, sleeplessness, refusal to go to school, “freaking out,” meltdowns, depression, suicide threats and suicide attempts. Oregon parents report office visits ranging from $75 to $150 per session. Children living in poverty are often not able to access care for test stress and anxiety related illnesses.

  • Oregon’s Kindergarten Assessment is not age appropriate and results in young children starting school feeling scared, anxious, and inadequate to the task. Kindergartners are being treated for test anxiety. What is the cost of a childhood lost?

  • Requiring special education students to take SBAC creates unrealistic expectations for many students and leads to the labeling of many more. Parents report spending money for attorneys and counseling as well as spending their own time, and energy fighting to keep their children out of special education classrooms based on inaccurate SBAC test results.

Data Privacy

  • PAAOregon opposes federal and state initiatives that undermine student data privacy. The time and energy spent by parents in trying to figure out how to protect their child's privacy is overwhelming. Attaching a dollar figure to that endeavor may be difficult but should definitely be part of the algorithm.

  • Data collected from standardized tests are fed into the Statewide Longitudinal Data System with little regard to student data privacy rights. The cost of the SLDS cannot be separated from the cost of the SBAC.

  • What is the price tag of the collection and storage of student data fed into the SLDS for previous years and years to come? Is this an escalating cost?

Common Core State Standards/ESEA/ESSA

  • PAA opposes Common Core Standards (CCSS), PARCC and SBAC tests May 2015 and Testing and ESEA pose concerns about many aspects of SBAC including the cost.

  • The cost of aligning curriculum to CCSS that are developmentally inappropriate at lower levels and stop short of excellence at higher levels cannot be overstated. To experiment on children is ill-advised, and we will likely be paying the price for it far into the future. How much has the state spent on aligning the curriculum to the test?

  • SBAC was designed to allow corporate interests easier access to the “educational marketplace” and to private student and family data. How much state and federal funding has been diverted away from teachers and activities that directly engage students to vendors, middle managers, and administrative staff?

  • SBAC and PARRC give the illusion of being tests that can be used to compare students, schools, and school districts nationwide. But cut scores are set individually state by state after the results are known. Besides accounting for the huge price the state pays in loss of parental trust -- as in the, "How stupid do you think we are?" reaction of many parents, what is the cost of calibrating the scores of Oregon's students to achieve the desired outcome and fall into line with the results of other test-takers?

Teaching to the test

  • Teaching to the test has become the curriculum. With the threat of students repeating a grade, teacher firings, and school closings based on poor test scores, ignoring the importance of the SBAC is not an option for teachers, parents, and students who care about their learning communities. How much class time is spent preparing for the test?

  • Resource booklets and test prep materials are costly, not to mention computers, iPads, and other technology expenditures that are the direct result of adhering to SBAC initiatives. What is the cost of auxillary hardware and software linked to testing?

  • Tutoring expenditures born by parents resulting from the arcane requirements of CCSS curriculum are out-of-pocket costs directly related to SBAC. Some parents report spending on average $130 a month on math tutoring because they are unable to help their children do math the Common Core way. Students living in poverty are not able to afford such tutoring.

  • Parents, including engineers, accountants, and techies, are frustrated that they can’t help their children with elementary math because of the ridiculousness of the process required by CCSS and SBAC. Hours spent by parents "re-learning" math to conform to CCSS must be considered a cost of the test.

Teacher Quality, Professional Development, and Evaluations

  • Parents are concerned that applications for teacher certification is down. What costs will their children pay when qualified teachers cannot be found? Parents are concerned that student learning will suffer, and their favorite teachers will leave.

  • Oregon officials said that SBAC test scores will not figure in teacher evaluations, but there is no guarantee of that. Teachers are being driven out of the profession because of top-down, test-driven curriculum. What is the cost in lost income and quality of life when teachers are not allowed to work as professionals and forced out of their jobs?

  • Teaching Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) is under attack. Some parents think the TSPC has been instrumental in marginalizing those who favor high stakes reforms such as SBAC. They foresee the weakening of that agency leading to less qualified teachers who teach by testing. How does "personalized learning" figure into the cost of the SBAC? In other words, how much standardized formative testing will be required to pass SBAC in the future. At what cost?

  • The interference of Chalkboard Project and other organizations in teacher professional development is tied to the SBAC and amounts to millions from the government and foundations. How much money have non profits, foundations, and government agencies spent to prop up the SBAC?

School Closings

  • School closings are costly and disrupt learning communities. Parents fear that a poor performance on SBAC will lead to school closures as witnessed in districts in states across the country. What is the cost of closing a public school based on SBAC scores? Has that happened in Oregon?

Philanthropy, Corporations, and Testing

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Chalkboard aka Foundations for a Better Oregon, Stand for Children, and other non-profits organizations have spent millions of dollars to expedite initiatives that favor the SBAC. Those donations should be figured into the cost of the test.

  • Government funding and contributions from individuals and foundations to "test-promoting" organizations should be included in the cost of the SBAC.

  • Chalkboard and Stand for Children, two organizations that generously promote the testing culture, are often called upon by the Governor, the OEIB (when it existed), and the ODE to give testimony in educational matters. There seems to be, at the very least, a perception of a conflict of interest, if not a quid pro quo relationship, between these private corporations and the government. How do you put a price on "trust lost" because of lack of transparency in dealings between the government and nonprofits/foundations -- especially when parents are barely consulted about important decisions that affect their children?

Austerity in Schools v. Fully Funding Schools (QEM)

  • Small class sizes, libraries, art, music, P.E., field trips, recess time, and literally everything that makes school a joyful place to be has value that cannot be overestimated. What is the opportunity cost of replacing all of that with test prep?

  • The Quality Education Model (QEM) would have fully funded schools without the artificial costs and consequences of CCSS and SBAC. What is the cost of the QEM compared to that of the out-of-control high stakes test-and-punish regime?

  • The layers of bureaucracy at the local and state level ushered in by initiatives related to the SBAC, including the creation and demise of the OEIB, must be attributed, at least in part, to the cost of the test. How much has the education bureaucracy grown since the implementation of high stakes testing (NCLB)?

Organizations for opting out of high stakes tests

  • The representation of parent voices from parent groups not funded by the billionaires has been sorely missing from public discourse on educating our children. The costs, both in dollars and sweat equity, should figure into the cost of the SBAC. Parent voices have been ignored even as they escalate to a fervent pitch in demanding an end to SBAC. How do we calculate the cost that parents have paid in actively advocating for their children, by creating signs, leading marches, organizing events, giving speeches, educating other parents, teachers, and public officials, and traveling to Salem and Washington, D.C. to lobby elected officials? What is the cost of the mired-in-the-muck education of an entire generation of children proselytized by greedy billionaires and politicians who, instead of recognizing the treasure of a bright young mind, see only dollar signs? Is there an algorithm for that?

  • Position papers supporting many of the comments here can be found at the Parents Across America website. The following organizations are ones that offered support for comments and suggestions documented in this report: PAAO (Parents Across America Oregon), PPU (Portland Parent Union), OSOS (Oregon Save Our Schools), AGAHST (Angry Grandparents Against High Stakes Tests), CAPE (Community Alliance for Public Education, Opt Out Oregon, GSA (Great Schools for America), PAA (Parents Across America), FairTest, UOO (United Opt Out), NPE (Network for Public Education).


The original text of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 mentions the word "test" exactly one time. And, it doesn't refer to the testing of children at all. It says that the bill, or the program created by the bill, should contain an evaluation of itself.

"including pilot projects designed to test the effectiveness of plans so developed"

It's time to stop mercilessly testing children and to adhere to the original intent of ESEA. It is time to "test the effectiveness of the plans so developed" -- in this case by ESSA -- and act accordingly in the best interest of children.

#tests #SBAC #ESEAESSA #Audit

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