Let’s face it–if you’ve ever talked with a teacher, parent, student (or better yet, pretty much anybody with a shred of connection to education and isn’t paid by the textbook companies), the issue of “standardized testing” comes up eventually…and never with a true smile.
I became a certified teacher in 2008. When training in college, we’d been told that our state text, the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) was going to be phased out. I remember some of us broke into cheers with that.
We spent a great deal of time learning about how to help students with reading, about learning disabilities, different learning styles, constructivist teaching methods, portfolios, research projects…anything that would get the fun back in education and promote active learning, especially for high-schoolers.
But I quickly learned that the test wasn’t going away. They flipped it and slapped a new name on it, and now we have the lovely, debilitating debacle known as STAAR.
I spent 5 years as a substitute teacher after graduation, and ended up taking a non-educational full-time job out of desperation for a steady paycheck. I wanted to substitute teach still, but every year state testing tightened the screws and I became disillusioned. I’d been “young, naive, and stupid enough to try anything,” but the test always came first, even when I had “free rein” to teach long-term.
People keep asking me if I’m still a certified teacher and when I’m going to apply for a teaching job and finally get my classroom. In a lengthy, impulsive fit of “counting-my-chickens-before-they-hatched,” I bought a lot of awesome posters and fun stuff for my future-classroom, like posters of historical films and ancillary materials, even before I graduated, and they know it.
They’re all sitting in poster boxes, waiting for…whatever now.
The more reliance there is on testing, and the more stories regarding testing that I hear…I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to teach in the classroom if that’s what I have to contend with.
Any salesman will tell you it’s damned impossible to push a product you don’t believe in. I can’t look these kids in the eye and tell them how a bubble sheet test will improve their lives every year. Not anymore.
Maybe I’m a bitter person about this, but I’m honestly trying to find the good in standardized testing. This article gives some basic pros and cons, but like I said, they’re basic.
Now, from what I’ve experienced/heard from old colleagues/seen:
- Standardized testing takes up too much time, especially if you’re in elementary school. You can Google oodles of stats in different states.
- As much as teachers are told that they shouldn’t be “teaching to the test,” there really aren’t a lot of other options. I mean, if the info that’s going to be on the test isn’t covered in favor of a great project or book research moment, you’ll get those answers wrong. If the kids can’t fill out a bubble sheet properly, there’s going to be a lot of wrong answers. If the teacher wants to keep his/her job, they’d better do a lot of practice on how to do the test. Ergo, by necessity, they HAVE to teach to the test.
- Kids as young as 3rd grade have had anxiety, stress, and even panic attacks due to the pressure put on them to do well on the test! As with other things, I’m sure some instances haven’t been reported…at least not nationally.
- The STAAR test has had quite a few glitches along the way, and lots of outcry regarding what’s all covered.
- Supporters say it’s an improvement because it tests kids only on what they learned in the year instead of drilling old subject matter into them. It’s better in high school because if a kid’s taking biology that year, they’re not being tested on a different subject per their grade level.
- However, my former mentor took over a high school World History classroom the first year of that particular STAAR test. The test was in the last week of April, from what I recall. However, thanks to STAAR, her students had to have covered the time period from ancient Sumeria all the way up to the Obama administration. And they still had a month left of school after all that cramming. So what were they going to do the last month? Apparently, that was the only time they got to do all those fun research projects she was known for. They had to wait until the testable material was covered and test was done.
- Many arguments revolve around teacher accountability. I agree some teachers need to improve and some are already excellent. We have that pattern in every damned profession on the planet, so why single teachers out?
- High school kids know the system; they know the rules of state testing, what teachers have to do, and the consequences if teachers don’t do it. It’s scarier every damned year how much the kids can get your teaching license jeopardized because they didn’t want to follow the rules and wanted to keep their cell phone or other electronic device on them instead of turning it in. Any of the other teachers walk by and see it–bang–the teacher just lost their job. A whole career down the drain because some kid can’t be without their precious-fucking-technology for four hours. (I’d volunteer to be a hall monitor instead–out in the boiling hallway instead of the comfy classroom–because of this fear. State trainers pounded it into our heads how severe the consequences would be if one of the 20 or so kids slipped something by us).
- Every year we see stories of test scores being linked to employment–is there little wonder why the news has more than a handful of stories about teachers caught cheating or helping students cheat on standardized tests? How the hell does that actually help anybody?
- Getting actual figures as to how much money’s going into state testing–at least in Texas–is pretty tough. How do we know how well our investment’s working, and as the article’s writer says, we’ve been doing these tests since 1980. No figures? Methinks it’s time to reassess. Other reports give estimates nationwide, but as schools are a part of local and state taxes more than anything, we should have better figures to find out where our taxes are going.
- Just last week, we were trying to determine schedules for tutorials at my current tutoring job, when the kids would be available so we’d make sure to be available ourselves. Sadly, we’re on hiatus because summer school starts next week (mostly) around here, and the kids don’t even have THEIR scores to see if they passed or failed yet–school in general OR the STAAR.
- Many don’t know if they have to be in summer school yet–they won’t get their results until tomorrow or early next week (when summer school starts). If they failed STAAR, they still don’t know and will have to fanangle study time before the re-test sign up date by the end of June.
- How the hell are these kids (and parents) supposed to improve if they have no data to work with? Gah–it’s like Sherlock Holmes: “Data, data, data!”
We’ve been getting frantic phone calls about it and in a perpetual holding pattern. Next week will be super busy, I imagine, as parents work around the sudden summer school (or let their kids come to us first–heaven knows they’re stressed enough so I HOPE they wouldn’t try both at the same time).
But that financing bit also reminds me of one of my favorite predictions from The Dilbert Future: Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century. Granted, it’s talking about politics, but just substitute the words “test” for “vote” and it’ll work out alright:
Prediction #25: In the future, the value of your vote will become less than zero. That happens when the amount you pay in taxes to have your own vote counted is greater than the value of the vote itself. (Pg 100)
Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect fit, but honestly, how are they using the data they’re gleaning from these tests? WHAT data are they getting, on each student, district, state, etc.?
I’ve lost the answers, if I ever had them to begin with. But I can safely say I’m happy I’ve known teachers in the Clear Creek District down here in Texas who want to end all this crap, and I’m eager to read more about this (I just found the site Save Texas Schools and the page on too much testing, so I’ll be doing more research…join me?)
As I haven’t been in a full classroom the last couple of years, I would like to understand this better and find the bright side (if only to get some semblance of my hope back).
Seriously, though, what are the actual positive benefits of standardized testing? What would you be willing to tell a child about these tests that would show them as beneficial (beyond “if you fail, you don’t get to the next grade.”)
I’m looking for the positives, because I’ve run out of good things to say about these damned things.