WESTMINSTER, S.C. – South Carolina middle school special education teacher Tracie Happel isn’t a fan of standardized tests, and she’s asking her school for permission to exempt her students.
The mother of two teaches English and reading to learning disabled students for Oconee County’s West Oak Middle School, and said her sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders are already overly self-conscious about their abilities.
“These kids already feel stupid,” Happel told EAGnews, adding that most read at a first- to third-grade level. “Literally every day we have a discussion about they feel stupid, like idiots, like retards and I have to convince them they just learn differently.”
Regardless, Happel said state standards expect grade-level proficiency, and rigorous testing that starts this week will only amplify her students’ learning issues.
“To answer higher level thinking questions is just going to further lower their opinions of themselves,” she said, pointing out that South Carolina does not allow students to opt out of standardized tests like other states.
Beyond her immediate concerns with her students, Happel said she has broader issues with what she calls the “federal invasion” of public education through President Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative, which ushered in the national Common Core initiative and associated tests.
“The scores are sent to the state education departments, which sends them to the federal department of education,” Happel said. “The constitution says education is a state’s right, not a federal right.”
The additional federal requirements are also adding substantial costs to schools through time wasted on test scoring and practice tests, as well as staff training to administer the tests. Special study materials and contracts with test prep consultants are other unnecessary expenses tied to the testing, she said.
“It costs schools millions of dollars for testing” that does little more than “create anxiety from the teachers down to the students,” Happel said. “We need help getting a law in South Carolina to opt out” of the tests.
Happel, a 25-year educator, taught in Wisconsin’s La Crosse schools before she moved to South Carolina last fall and joined the staff at West Oak Middle School. In Wisconsin, parents can opt their children out of standardized tests, and she doesn’t think it’s right South Carolina students don’t have the same option.
Happel outlined her objections to the standardized testing in a lengthy letter delivered to school and district officials today, the day before West Oak begins its first round of tests for the year.
“I object to forcing children to sit through hours of bubble tests when they don’t even understand what they are doing and why they are doing it,” Happel wrote. “This is inhumane.”
“I object to children who are just learning to speak, read, and write in English being forced to take standardized tests using English academic language and culturally biased language,” she continued. “I object to forcing children with special needs to take standardized grade level tests when they have already proven to be 1 ½ to 2 years behind typical peers via a formal evaluation using standardized tests.
“I respectfully request that my students not be required to take the SC PASS and SC READY, which goes against my professional conscious,” Happel wrote.
Happel said she hopes to hear back from school officials about her request yet today.