Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Time for School: Mandatory Testing


It’s getting to be that time of the year again. Anticipation mixed with angst. School Time! I found myself perusing the school supply ads in the Sunday paper last weekend, as I have done for my whole adult life: first for myself as a college student, then for my own children, and finally for my students. Then it hit me: Hey, I don’t have to look for the best bargains for school supplies ever again! Not for me, not for my adult children, and not for students.  I’m moving on! 

Being an elementary school teacher made me proud.  It was a hard job that not just any one could do. I know this because so many people who are not teachers have commented to me about this very thing.  I’ve also been witness to volunteers who thought it was an easy gig until they taught a lesson. Often parents would come to the classroom to help out and be in awe of how I handled a group of twenty- some kids and kept them learning and on task.

But things have changed. Giving kids an education is more difficult than ever for a number of reasons. Mandated testing is one of the reasons. An article I read entitled High Stakes Testing Pros and Cons by Roberta Munoz, published December 4, 2014 by, proposed a list of “pros” and “cons” of testing.  I’ll share part of it here.

   The (so called) Pros:

·        High-stakes test results can be used to help teachers create a learning plan based on your kid's needs—helping her in the long run. Look at your child's test results as a tool for progress, not as a judgment on ability or intelligence. (Most teachers don’t need the information from this kind of test to create learning plans.  Classroom work, observation and focused quizzes are more beneficial  assessment tools to the classroom teacher for lesson development. Also, teachers don’t pass judgment on kids—maybe parents sometimes, but not kids.)

·        Data from statewide testing is almost always publicly available. As a parent, you can look at these results to see how well, or poorly, your child's school is performing.(This is true. Many families look at these stats. to determine the ‘best’ schools.  However, if you want your kid to go to the ‘best’ school, you’d better be committed to do your share of the work. i.e. homework completion.)

·        High stakes exams can cause anxiety, but yearly testing and frequent practice tests can help kids improve their test-taking abilities over time. Your child can benefit by learning how to handle pressure, and developing the skills and strategies necessary to meet the school's—and [the] parents'—expectations. (Yes, children certainly do get anxious over testing. Yes, your child will become a better test taker, but at what cost? Will your child learn more?  Will your child learn to solve problems creatively? )

   The Cons:

·        High-stakes tests cause any subject that isn't math or language arts to be pushed out of the classroom. Subjects like science, social studies and the arts are sacrificed to make time for more test prep. (We were given so much more math curriculum to teach this past year that I personally didn’t have room in my schedule for Social Studies! Teachers were told to ‘fit it in when we could’. )

·        Pressure on teachers can clamp down on creativity and innovation. Thanks to pressure from the government, teachers often feel compelled to "teach to the test," resulting in less flexibility to tailor lesson plans to individual students or class groups. (Too true. Many great projects have been cut out of my teaching and their learning in the name of Core Curriculum- teaching only skills that will specifically be required to show proficiency on a test. --And if any students didn’t show proficiency, then I didn’t do my job.)

·         Increased pressure on parents and students is counter-productive. … “[there is] a distinction between constructive pressure—the kind that motivates students to do better—and pressure that stifles learning. If the pressure isn't clearly linked to student learning…if it's just pressure for pressure's sake and not encouraging students to take their learning seriously — then the pressure is not constructive." (Many a parent felt the pressure placed on them by the school district’s requirements.  Additional teachers were required to make phone calls to parents of students who didn’t  ‘pass’ specific sections of tests, regardless of whether the student was working to their best ability or regardless of their overall testing results. It was crazy. So much stress on parents tends to lead to negative comments about school, often in front of the children.  And the kids are the ones who suffer.)

I understand these pros and cons so clearly. I lived it!  The Federal government, who puts stipulations on the State government, which makes them set core standards that make it very difficult for teachers to give students time to think, create, and problem-solve.  I tested kids too much!  Pre-test, post-tests, quizzes.  I did not give the students tests to help me know what they still needed to learn and understand as much as I gave tests because they were mandated.  It was too much for the kids to handle, they would act out, actually groan out loud, and complain about having another test, and most of the time I knew how each student would perform on the tests.  I didn’t know what their exact score would be, but I did know which students “got it” (the topic) and would score high and who didn’t “get it” and would score low. It’s so frustrating to watch kids struggle on a test you know they can’t pass; that did nothing to help me know what they need. And it makes school an unhappy place for children.

People, I don’t think this reality in education is going to change soon.  The best advice I can give to you is to make sure you read with your kids – a lot!  Have them read to you while you’re making dinner, riding or waiting in the car, and while you’re sitting at your other kids’ practices.  Also, make sure your kid gets their homework done and goes to school with a Ready To Learn frame of mind.  School is going by at lightning speed. Teachers are responsible for meeting ALL the needs of each and every student in their class.  We know that can’t always be done. The student to teacher ratio is too great.  Keep up with everything at your kiddo’s school.  Your child’s life will be less stressful for it. Believe me.

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