Spring: Exciting New Growth and Tired Old Testing
Happy Spring! As I look out the window at the blazing sunshine and marvel that we’ve actually come to almost-the-other-side of this pandemic, there’s obviously only one thought on my mind. State Testing. Is that what you thought I was going to say? No?
It’s true, folks. State testing is just around the corner. I hate it. If I’m being honest (and if I can’t be honest on my own blog, where can I?), it is nothing but a colossal waste of everyone’s time. My time. My students’ time. My administrator’s time. My media specialist’s time. Everyone’s. Time. Why? Because we (students, teachers, school leaders) get nothing from it.
What Should We Expect From a Test?
What should you ‘get’ from testing? you might ask.
Testing should provide teachers with data to improve student learning. I challenge you to find a credible teacher who would disagree with this notion.
Now. There are some district-wide tests (MAP) that actually do provide this information. In my school district, we take the MAP assessment three times a year. From my Reading MAP data, I might learn that Jimmy is competent when it comes to comparing and contrasting, but is comparatively weak in inference skills. I will use this information to create small skills-based groups to address these deficits. Done and done - makes sense, right?
From my Math MAP data, I might notice that Shelby is skilled in the area of whole number multiplication but struggles when it comes to multiplying fractions. Again - enter the small, skills-based groups.
These groups are where it’s at because if you’re Oliver, and you are working on exponents and square roots, you do NOT need to be spending time polishing your fraction skills. So we have separate, skills-based groups that are differentiated. Great. This information can help me be a more effective teacher.
And that’s the bottom line of teaching, right? I teach. You learn. Simple.
In contrast, state standardized testing does not tell me ONE actionable thing about the learners in my classroom. Zero. Bupkis. Some might argue that state testing does tell me how my students are performing compared to their peers (locally and nationally).
But does it really? There are many folks who will jump all over that data that’s published in the newspaper annually (divisive much?), telling us which schools are failing and which are thriving. But what then? What happens to those ‘failing schools’?
The level of economic and racial bias embedded in standardized tests has given many pause, and it remains a huge problem. Test designers create many of their questions around the background knowledge of white, middle-class students. Students who’ve been to museums, eaten sushi, and taken a taxi somewhere.
Students who are not middle class and white don’t perform as well on these tests. And THAT is one factor that results in the nice, broad spread of test scores that perpetuate the existence of the testing industry.
Students don’t benefit from statewide standardized testing, and neither do teachers. So WHO benefits from state testing? (Say it with me: THE TESTING INDUSTRY)
How does standardized testing waste time? Well, besides taking the test itself (science, math, and reading, at least one hour each), there’s time spent getting ready - test prep. Teachers are encouraged and/or directed to make time to prepare students for the tests.
Did I say ‘Teachers are told to teach to the test’? Nope. That’s not what I’m talking about. Teachers are given practice tests to administer, sometimes online and other times paper/pencil. So we make time in the schedule to practice. After taking the practice test, we’re supposed to talk with our about it - what went well, what didn’t. What strategies are best for answering this type of question, etc.
If teachers are doing three sessions of test prep for each test (recommended), that adds up to about 4.5 - 5 hours of prep. PLUS the actual three hours of the tests themselves. That’s at least eight hours taken away from regular instruction.
And it’s not just what we’re ADDING to the schedule, but what we’re replacing. Test prep lessons are taking the place of another lesson. If it’s fifth grade, then students are missing:
Practical application of fractions
Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with decimals
Diversity of ecosystems
Health, nutrition, etc.
Reading aloud from The Unwanteds, Number the Stars or another amazing novel
Learning cause/effect, making inferences, and deep comprehension
These are just examples, obviously, but I guarantee you that whatever the standardized test is replacing is more valuable than that test.
Oh, and remember when I mentioned my media specialist and administrator? I neglected to note our resource teachers and speech-language pathologists. During state testing, all of these professionals are called to stop their normal instruction in order to proctor the test for students.
Those children who would ‘benefit from a smaller group setting’ (ADHD, immature, any other reason), are removed from their classroom to take the assessment in the media center, office or another, quieter classroom.
Are special education teachers addressing students’ IEP goals at this time? Nope. Are SLP’s working on articulation concerns and language problems with the many kiddos on their caseloads? No. Instead, they’re sitting next to one, two or three students, occasionally tapping on the table or iPad, saying, “Come on, you can do it!” To what end?
Calling state testing “a drag” is an understatement. Students want relevance. Most of the students I know don’t like busywork and pointless activities. Which is exactly what state testing is. And make no mistake, students know it’s a waste of time.
We’re told to ‘tell them how important it is’. But that is a HARD message to deliver when we don’t see any value ourselves. Are these tests going to make our students more capable in the world? No! And every teacher knows it!
Here’s the cold, hard truth: the Emperor is naked. Tell your friends.