Last week I began my marathon of testing. When it is all said and done I will have administered 43 tests in 34 days over 7 weeks. This does not include the writing assessments that were given in February, the field test writing test that was administered in December, the ACT PLAN in October or the September or December retakes of the Algebra tests or the October Reading tests. By the end of this school year I will have spent more than 45 days administering tests. In our school we test all students in grades 6-10 in Reading, 6-8 in Math, grade 8 Science, grade 7 Civics and every high school student in Algebra, Geometry, Biology and US History. We also administer, because we are required to by law, the college readiness test to all eleventh graders. We are a typical public school.
I got to thinking about this earlier this week as I sat watching students take these tests. I had one student so stressed she ran out of the room to throw up and a second that was in tears by the end of the three hour test session. This student has a 3.8 GPA, takes honors classes, does well in those classes and will attend a four year university after graduation; this student has failed this test by one point three times. I cannot believe these tests accurately test reading skills when situations like this occur. I do defend testing to an extent. High School Teachers have a vested interest in their students doing well. We often see effort reflected in grades more than we should, and we need a way to identify if students are mastering content. But this is not the way.
In the past week I have also read more posts concerned with the current state of teaching and testing than I have in a long time. Maybe it is the time of year, maybe I have a heightened sensitivity to this subject right now, or maybe things have really changed as much as I think they have. First was a Massachusetts Pre-K teacher’s letter resigning after 25 years. She spends more time in meetings and being prescribed fixes than she does teaching. She sees the problems with asking students to learn things they are not developmentally ready to learn and she has finally had enough.
Next came the NY City Principal of a high performing school. She has the same concerns regarding the standardized tests that I do; the tests, I should note are made by the same company. The title of this op-ed piece is misleading, but the sentiment is one I readily identify with. Another piece on this same issues was from a NY City Teacher. She articulated beautifully how many teachers feel.
Part of my problem with this many high states tests is that they fail to account for several factors that will influence scores more than student development, teacher effectiveness or school quality. There is no place to note parent education and income, two factors that are better predictors of test performance than school rating and, depending which study you read, IQ. There is no place to mark that parents are divorcing, a death occurred in the family, a parent lost a job or that the student is working full time and going to school. There is no place to say the student is being evicted from their home or there has been no electricity for a month because the parents cannot afford the bill. There is no place to tell those scoring these tests that the student’s mother is in the hospital or the student was just released from the hospital. I have seen students who usually score “highly proficient” drop to “below average” when one of these events occurs during the school year. Some will bounce back, others will not. It seems to add insult to injury that we judge them and their teachers without all of the information.
My other issue with these tests, in addition to what the NYC educators have stated, is that they compare one class to another, not a child’s development and progress over the course of his/her education. A teacher’s rating based on whether this year’s class did better than last year’s class with no regard to where each of those children started. Yes, we can see a child’s progress on the score report, but that is not how teachers and schools are judged.
The other education related article that caught my eye this week was one about the difference between reading on line and reading on paper. We teach with paper books and we test on a computer. It isn’t the same task.
I want to see teaching go back to the creative inspired profession it once was. I want to see learning and curiosity valued more than the ability to guess correctly on a test. I want developmental experts to say what age children should be taught skills, not politicians and lawyers. I want students to want to know why and how and become curious about the world around them. I want tests to reflect what students know, not how well they learned how to take a test.
I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last week and I will have more time in the next six weeks. I’m hoping this testing season isn’t as bad as the last few and that this trend of adding more and more exams will cease soon. A graduation exam is one thing – a lifetime of testing is another.
Apologizes for the rant. I’ll be back to food and furry creatures soon, but I just had to do this once. It’s been on my mind a lot this week.