Researchers Raise Concerns about Testing and EdTech. How Will The U.S. Department of Education Respond?

On Tuesday, January 19th, the U.S. Department of Education held a Public Hearing at UCLA to gather comments for transition to the new ESSA Every Student Succeeds Act.  Approximately eighty speakers from a variety of educational institutions and organizations made statements and recommendations related to the new law.  Each speaker had five minutes to comment.  I spoke during the afternoon session and am posting here an adapted version of the written statement submitted to the regulations page.

January 21st, 2016

John King, Acting Secretary of Education
Ann Whalen, Senior Advisor to the Secretary, Delegated Duties of the Assistant Secretary
Patrick Rooney, Acting Director, Office of State Support

United States Department of Education
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
400 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary of Education John King, Ms. Whalen, and Mr. Rooney,
Thank you for hosting a Public Hearing on the ESSA on January 19th at UCLA. Please find below the written text of my public comment, including segments in italics that were not included in public session in order to stay within the time limit. I request that the full written comments be considered as you move toward implementation of the new ESSA law. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions.


“Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to share these comments,

My name is Roxana Marachi. I am an Associate Professor of Education at San José State University where I teach Educational Psychology and supervise student teachers in the Multiple Subjects Credential Program. My research is on school climate, violence prevention, and the promotion of social, emotional, mental, and physical health in our school communities. I make my comments today not as a representative of my University, rather as a youth and social justice advocate interested in the impacts of policies enacted by the U.S. Department of Education on the youth of our nation.  I will publish my comments to, a site that also includes two earlier letters to the California State Board of Education regarding concerns about the Smarter Balanced Assessments, that were administered to over 10 million students in 18 states last Spring, 2015. My letters document the numerous technological barriers, design flaws, and breaches of contracts in the development of the computerized assessments that are now being pushed with increasing pressure from the U.S. Department of Education.

I recommend for your ESSA review team to explore and respond specifically to each of the ten Critical Questions about Computerized Assessments and Smarter Balanced Test Scores and that as a Department, you take on the related assessment challenge issued at the close of the Open Letter to the California State Board of Education on the Release of the [False] SBAC Scores also published on the site.

My letters outline grave concerns regarding unfair test administrations, security and privacy issues related to test data, violations of students’ rights, delivery of the tests on faulty networks and technology, and long-term motivational problems that are likely to result from misdiagnosing students with assessments unfit for use. In the medical community, such practices would constitute fraud.

On November 13th, the California State Board of Education filed proposed amendments with the Office of Administrative Law, [OAL 2015-1113-04E] entitled,

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP)

The State Board of Education (SBE) finds that an emergency exists and that the emergency regulations adopted are necessary to avoid serious harm to the public peace, health, safety, or general welfare, especially the welfare of pupils attending California’s public schools.”

The State’s proposal indicates that “If the CAASPP online assessments are administered under the current regulations… achievement measures may not be accurate, reliable, and valid. Consequently, calculations based on inaccurate measures will harm students and LEAs by not providing the information needed for appropriate instruction and accountability (both federal and state).” [OAL 2015-1113-04E]

The document also indicates that “during the 2015 test administration over 46,000 appeals were filed; the processing of these appeals in a timely manner posed a challenge for CDE staff and created frustration for the LEA and school staffs, also causing them much duplication of effort…”

I agree that a Finding of Emergency exists and argued in my letter of response to the regulations, that while the amendments outlined may be deemed necessary, they would be profoundly insufficient to address the lack of validity of the tests.

Dr. Doug McRae, a testing specialist who has also been communicating validity concerns of the assessments for the past 5 years stated at the September State Board meeting that “including current scores in student academic records without evidence of validity, reliability, and fairness of the assessments would be immoral, unethical, unprofessional, and to say the least, totally irresponsible.

I would add that to transfer these false data for use in Federal or otherwise shared databases would be equally immoral, unethical, unprofessional, and irresponsible.

Now, it appears that the same faulty assessments at the core of this Finding of Emergency are poised to be forced onto students. On December 22nd, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education issued a letter that threatened punitive action against the State of California and 12 other states should participation rates for these tests fall below 95%.

Such a threat not only violates basic rights of students and parents, but also Ethical Protections of Human Subjects in Research, and the very provisions in the new (ESSA) law that give states the authority to affirm parents’ rights to opt their children out of the tests.

Two lawyers, Drs. Anna Shah from New York and A.J. Wagner (who is also a State Board Trustee in Ohio) have published documents outlining contradictions in the USDOE letter dated December 22nd. I share their critiques and questions, have included links to their writing in my comment [here and here], and echo the call for responses to their questions, especially regarding the mandating of tests that fail to meet basic standards for use.

Section 9203 of the ESSA includes a provision for “Preventing the Improper Use of Taxpayer Funds”

This aspect of the ESSA is critically important given that the tests have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of state and federal tax dollars to develop and administer, yet have not been shown to yield accurate, reliable, nor valid data about student learning.

As the current administration transitions to the new ESSA law, I recommend that the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Education investigate adherence (or lack thereof) to the terms outlined in the Race To The Top grants that funded the development of the SBAC and PARCC tests. It is unclear which entities are to be held responsible when high stakes-accountability decisions are being made based on faulty tests that have been shown repeatedly to violate basic standards for use.

I further recommend that a follow-up letter be issued to states clarifying that State Opt-Out laws are to be followed, and that for states where laws indicate that notification must be made of the right to Opt Out, that these communications be made clearly and in a timely manner to students and parents.


The remainder of my public comment will focus on the need to provide clear, effective communication to parents and education communities regarding health and safety risks associated with the extended use of screen and wireless devices, and to share resource sites with strategies to minimize exposure. Websites that have excellent research and resources are the National Association for Children and Safe Technology (, the Environmental Health Trust ( and

As of December 1st, two hundred seventeen scientists from forty nations have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal. All have published peer-reviewed research on electromagnetic fields (EMF) and biology or health. The petition calls on the United Nations, the UN member states, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to adopt more protective exposure guidelines for EMF and wireless technology in the face of increasing evidence of health risks.

The scientists cite a 2011 study which documents how the industry-designed process for evaluating microwave radiation from phones results in children absorbing twice the radiation to their heads, up to triple in their brain’s hippocampus and hypothalamus, greater absorption in their eyes, and as much as 10 times more in their bone marrow when compared to adults.

In a press release dated October 14th, 2015, leading expert scientists and doctors from the Environmental Health Trust (EHT) sent an Open Letter to U.S. Department of Education detailing children’s unique vulnerability to the health risks of wireless technology and outlined specific steps the U.S. Department of Education can take to safeguard children’s health. The letter references accumulated scientific research documenting that wireless radiation, also known as radio-frequency (RF) or microwave radiation, could increase cancer risk and has been shown to damage reproductive systems and alter neurological development.

The Santa Clara County Medical Association Alliance Foundation held a Wireless Technology and Public Health Summit this past October with leading experts from various disciplines presenting current scientific research regarding the health effects of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones, Wi Fi and other electronic devices on biological systems. A week after that summit, right here at UCLA, The School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Sciences hosted a public lecture by Dr. Joel Moskowitz, from UC Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health on the need to address this issue from a public health lens with attention to protection for children. 

UCLA Public Health Presentation

I echo the recommendations documented in the EMF Scientist Appeal and the Environmental Health Trust Open Letter and call on your administration to prominently display full disclosure of exposure risks to EMF radiation. I further recommend that the safety measures outlined by Dr. Devra Davis and co-signed by Environmental Health Trust scientists and medical doctors be included in a Dear Colleague letter that would be communicated clearly to school leaders and also be prominently displayed on the landing pages of the and ConnectEd Initiatives Neither of these sites currently include any information on the safe use of technology and both appear to be heavily promoting the exact kinds of technologies that scientists and medical doctors are recommending to limit. These are critically important issues in child development and public health that deserve focused attention by the U.S. Department of Education. Thank you.”

Roxana Marachi, Ph.D.


For ready reference, I have included text from the section of the ESSA referred to above in addition to full hyperlinks of the documents embedded in text.

Section 9203 Preventing Improper Use of Taxpayer Funds”
“To address the misuse of taxpayer funds, the Secretary of Education shall—
(1) require that each recipient of a grant or subgrant under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.) display,in a public place, the hotline contact information of the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Education so that any individual who observes, detects, or suspects improper use of taxpayer funds can easily report such improper use;
(2) annually notify employees of the Department of Education of their responsibility to report fraud; and
(3) require any applicant—

(A) for a grant under such Act to provide an assurance to the Secretary that any information submitted when applying for such grant and responding to monitoring and compliance reviews is truthful and accurate; and
(B) for a subgrant under such Act to provide the assurance described in subparagraph (A) to the entity awarding the subgrant.”

  1. Critical Questions about Computerized Assessments and Smarter Balanced Test Scores:
  2. Open Letter to the California State Board of Education on Release of [False] SBAC Scores:
  3. California Office of Administrative Law:
  4. Review of Withholding Penalty History Confirms Threats are Punitive and Improper:
  5. A.J. Wagner Public Query To Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education
  6. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Secretary // Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research:
  7. Race to the Top Assessment Program // Comprehensive Assessment System Grant Proposal Submitted by Washington State on Behalf of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium:
  8. Assessment Opt-Out Policies: State Responses. Education Commission of the States: and
  9. National Association for Children and Safe Technology:
  10. Environmental Health Trust:
  11. Electromagnetic Radiation Safety: Scientific and policy developments regarding the health effects of electromagnetic radiation exposure from cell-phones, wi-fi, Smart Meters, and other wireless devices. Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley:
  12. International Appeal to United Nations World Health Organization, and U.N. Member States: Scientists Call for Protection from Non-ionizing Electromagnetic Field Exposure:
  13. Exposure limits: The underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children:
  14. Santa Clara County Medical Association Alliance Foundation Summit: Wireless Technology and Public Health: Health and Environmental Hazards in a Wireless World
  15. UCLA Fielding School of Public Health October 22nd, 2015 presentation by Dr. Joel Moskowitz, Director of Center for Family and Community Health at U.C. Berkeley: Wireless Phone Radiation Risks and Public Policy Slides and additional information available at:

Additional research and resources related to the comments above are available on the Educator Resources tab above and on the following pages: 

Screen Time and Tech Safety Research

“Testing, Testing, 1,2,3″…

8 thoughts on “Researchers Raise Concerns about Testing and EdTech. How Will The U.S. Department of Education Respond?

  1. Thank you for this thorough research and speaking up for children. I am seeing it shared in many places.

    We won’t be silenced.

    The spark of truth will engulf the lies to ashes.


  2. Pingback: Critical Questions about Computerized Assessments and SmarterBalanced Test Scores | EduResearcher

  3. Pingback: Researcher: Excessive Exposure to Wireless Radiation Harms Children’s Brains | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. Pingback: Mad Scientists Take on Education – Save Maine Schools

  5. Pingback: Reasons to Consider Opting Out of State Tests 2016 | IGNITE! … Fire is Catching

  6. Fantastic research! I fully support you in this, schools and parents need to be aware and conscious of EdTech. Wish you much success with it!

  7. Pingback: Over 100 Education Researchers Sign Statement Calling for Moratorium on High-Stakes Testing, SBAC // California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education | EduResearcher

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