By Sally Absher

It’s THAT time of the year.  During the month of February, every child from grade 3 to grade 11 is expected to take the online TCAP Writing Assessment.  The test dates are staggered, depending on grade, and school.

For Elementary and Middle school students in grades 5 and 8, the KCS testing window is February 2 – 6.  Students in grades 4 and 7 will take the test between February 9 and 13, and the test date for students in grades 3 and 6 is February 17-23.

High school students have the following schedule: Grade 11: February 2 – 6; Grade 10: February 9 – 13; and Grade 9: February 17 – 23.

The website indicates the test will be taken in two 60 minute sessions. Students will read two articles on social studies or science topics, and then respond to a prompt asking them to write one (grades 3 – 5) or two (grades 6-11) essays on certain aspects of the two articles while using “evidence from the text” to support their ideas. All of this must be typed on a computer.

As in most areas of the country, there is much buzz here about “opting out” of this and other standardized tests. But if you don’t want you child to take this test, don’t ask to “opt out.” Tennessee does not have an Opt out law (although a bill was filed in the legislature last year, it didn’t make it out of committee).

Instead, you can “refuse the test.” But even then, there seems to be contradictory communication from both Central Office, and individual schools, on whether this request will be honored, and under what conditions.

Some parents are being told that their child must be absent both on the test day and make-up day, which would be two unexcused absences. Some are being told their child need only be absent during the part of the day when the test is given. Others are being told their child can refuse the test and be present at school but must “sit and stare” while their classmates take the test. (They can’t read a book, color, or go to the library. They must just sit, for the entire hour).

The TCAP writing assessment is not new. Students in grades 5, 8, and 11 have taken this assessment for years. But thanks to Race to the Top and the emphasis on high-stakes standardized assessments, now all students in grades 3 – 11 take the test. (Last year the writing assessment was optional for grades 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10).

2015 is also the first year that the assessment is administered solely online. But most elementary, and quite a few middle school students, don’t have the necessary typing skills. They are quite comfortable with the technology – using the computer to play games, or “Google” information. But typing? How many of you learned to type in the third grade – or even seventh grade?

One parent, who is also a KCS teacher, said, “The time that is spent on preparing for this assessment along with administering it could be spent in far more beneficial ways. I for one am refusing to have my fourth grade KCS student take this unnecessary and developmentally inappropriate test.”

But that is not the only reason some parents don’t want their children wasting their time hunt and pecking their way through the writing assessment. According to Tennessee Education Matters, “Prior to the administration of the 2015 TCAP Writing Assessment, students will be given an on-line survey with 12 questions. “

Questions like, “How often is the following statement true for you? I like to write.” Or, “How often do you work to edit or change a previous piece of writing?”

Those are pretty innocuous questions. But what about the last three questions: “Do you have access to a computer outside of school?” “Do you have internet access at home?” and “How often do you use a computer outside of school for writing assignments (homework, stories, reports)?”

Some parents said they are concerned about the survey, having received calls from the school telling them that as part of the writing assessment, their student “will take a “survey” that won’t impact their teacher.”

One parent asked if this is an attempt to get answers to those Tripod-like questions.  (Last year there was such an uproar about the “Tripod survey” that the administration agreed to discontinue it).

It is time for parents to start pushing back on the excessive standardized testing. Washington isn’t going to fix this problem, no matter what Lamar Alexander says. Nashville probably won’t either.

“Our testing regiment must be as differentiated as you require our instruction to be. A standardized test, by its very nature, makes that impossible.” – Lauren Hopson, Knox Co Teacher, BOE meeting 12/3/14