I read more than enough news this week about standardized testing in the country and how the focus on these annual assessments is draining our faith in the American education system. Tonight I would like to share my thoughts on standardized testing, as I experience it from three perspectives: 1) teacher in a public school, 2) mom, and 3) former student who took these tests when I was young. Please be advised, these are my opinions and experiences, and they are not meant to persuade, coax, or otherwise insist that any person agrees with me. I’m only sharing because this is my blog, and this issue means a great deal to me at this time.
1) I am a public school teacher. I love teaching! I love my students, and I work to encourage them to be intelligent, thoughtful, active citizens of our country. In the last few years, I have noticed that the emphasis on testing/assessing started to hinder their performance in school, especially the creative thinking that I once saw. (Every 3 weeks we assess progress, according to the state standards; each quarter we monitor progress and predict; and we participate in state standardized testing in the spring.) Students, in general, are very concerned about their test scores. They want to do well. They know how to act. But sometimes, I look at their faces, and I think, “Oh, you poor things!” I just wanted you to read a book and talk with me about it, and we could recommend our “next-on-the-list” books for each other. We could write whatever we want, and revise and edit for publishing, like real writers do! Students have actually asked me, “Is this for a grade?” or “Is this going to be on the test?” I tell them the truth. “Everything we do is meant to help you to learn. You can pass the test if you are an active learner.”
Parents are under pressure now to help their kids pass the standardized tests, so the school can pass, so the state can pass. Parents want what is best for their children, so they do whatever it takes. The state governments have set up several ways for parents to take control of their students’ learning, including participating in school choice programs, accepting vouchers that lead away from public schools, and opting out of testing altogether. One problem is the parents are being forced to make decisions about education with no expertise in the actual ways that education works. Parents are acting on what they hear from the media. “The kids are not performing as they should, and you should do something about it.” What should they do? Listen to those who are not educators? Apparently. From my experience, I see more test anxiety in students in the past 5 years, and less overall authentic student achievement, than I did in the first 5 years of my teaching career. I believe the media does have something to do with it.
Another problem with standardized tests is that they are given at an inopportune time during the school year. This year, our state has a round of testing before, and a round after, spring break. I wonder how that makes sense? Schools spend most of the school year focusing on scores students received last year, and instructing with a goal of increasing scores for this year. Of course, I DO want my students to improve and grow, but I want them to learn, improve, and grow all year, not just for spring testing season.
One last problem I have noticed is that state governments have also encouraged school districts to evaluate teachers — reward and punish them — based on their students’ test scores on the standardized tests. This has caused much havoc, as children are not robots, and they will not perform each test day as the government would choose. It is insane that a teacher may or may not receive a raise, or may or may not be judged as a “satisfactory” teacher based on a few hours of testing in the spring of the school year. Now I DO agree that we teachers need to be held accountable! We should be instructing, and our students should be learning, based on the standards, over the course of a school year. My goal is student achievement. Of course! But I do not see how student achievement can be assessed by only a standardized test. There is so much more to it than that! I remember a slogan from years back: “A student is more than a test score.” It was a goofy campaign, but the message was clear. We want our students to succeed in life, and life is not one test.
2) I am a mom. I NEVER remember my daughters coming home from school, worried about taking “the test.” They did their homework. They did their projects (with little help from me, by the way). They learned to think, write, and research on their own when they wanted to know more about a subject. They knew that their teachers were not to blame for their failures. Yes, sometimes people fail. But we don’t let failing define us; we allow failing to teach us lessons, and we grow.”
3) I am a product of the public school system. I NEVER remember being worried about the standardized tests when I was a student. I do remember our teachers mentioning that they would be coming up soon, and those teachers taught us how to fill in bubbles on the answer sheets, make our best choices, and encouraged us to “try our best.” We knew the material. Our teachers had taught us what we needed to know. I passed the tests each time I took them. I was never a “star student,” but I did my best, and that was all anyone was asking for.
Let us help today’s students to become life-long learners again. As you read the news about testing students, consider what is best for kids, and not what is popular according to the government or the media. Make wise decisions, based on real research from education experts, teachers, and school leaders. Let’s find solutions that will help our students to meet goals greater than passing a test that takes just a few hours out of their lifetimes.