Letter to CA Superintendent of Schools re SBAC high stakes testing

August 8th, 2013


Dear Superintendent Torlakson,


I recently moved to California to undertake graduate studies at San Franciso State. I am completing an MA in Language and Literacy Education for in-service teachers. I am an Early Childhood educator as well as an advocate of bilingual education. I am heartened to read about your commitment to the teachers and the students of this state. I am a member of the BAT association and have heard you heard you complimented for the work you are doing in California.


I am concerned, however, that you are bringing the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium into California’s classrooms. Of primary concern to me is that students will be unfairly tested with these computer adaptive tests. I was genuinely horrified when I went online to take an SBAC practice test. As my interest is in the early years I took the 3rd math and ELA tests. I was concerned both by content and by application. It appears too easy for a child to inadvertently make a ‘mistake’ due to lack of computer skills or lack of competent computer skills. I urge you to go online and take the tests, even if you only look at the first few questions. They were enough to make me honestly scared for any child having to complete these assessments.


I sincerely believe that you want the best for California’s public school students. Please reconsider the implementation of SBAC testing in favor of lowering class sizes, beefing up art programs in school, and allowing ample time for students to play freely and in athletic programs. As a former teacher you would be well aware that teachers are assessing students on a daily basis in order to provide developmentally appropriate and thought-provoking lessons. The role of the teacher is also to encourage a learning community that embraces all learners. High-stake testing pits children against what for some are insurmountable odds. High-stakes testing, by its very nature, assesses students in an artificial environment where problem solving and group work will never factor into the equation.


As an advocate of bilingual education I am particularly concerned for English Learners and I am yet to come across documentation of how high-stakes testing may affect this population. I was very pleased to see that you have introduced a State Seal of Biliteracy. Bilingualism and biliteracy must be encouraged in order to move us towards a more just and equitable society. To this end I urge you once again to reconsider the implementation of the SBAC computer adaptive tests. Classroom teachers are the only ones who can genuinely assess a student’s strengths and areas of needs and we do so using a wide variety of tools. Each child is unique which makes a focus on standardized testing antithetical to the education of the child. To prepare for college and career our students will be best placed when they are capable of interacting in a group; when they take pride in group and individual problem solving; and when they believe they have a powerful and unique voice.

I sincerely ask you to reconsider the use of SBAC testing materials for the sake of California’s diverse and awe-inspiring public school students.


Warm regards,

Liz Murray



One thought on “Letter to CA Superintendent of Schools re SBAC high stakes testing

  1. Amazing letter, Liz.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your arguments against these tests as well as the testing methods.

    Having grown up in a household where both parents were educators, I can say standardized testing has been hotly contested for years. The fight to keep the arts in public schools is an issue that was especially dear to my family. While these issues are not new, I am glad that there are teachers that are still carrying the torch. You are not just keeping the flame alive, but trying to light the way for better education.

    I hope that your plea does not fall upon deaf ears.

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