School has most definitely changed since we were kids. The standards (in Arizona at least) have become tougher with Common Core, mathematics problem solving is becoming a priority and many teachers are shifting a greater focus to critical, complex thinking. All amazing, but there is still one big aspect of education that needs to change: standardized testing. While I think our students need to be challenged, I know that eight-year-olds do not need to prove this through hours of filling in bubbles.
In Arizona, the Arizona State Board of Education awarded at $19 million contract to AIR (Arizona Institutes of Research) to develop the AZMerit test. Meanwhile, it cut overall funding to schools by $92 million.
Teacher’s Can’t Use the Results
Teachers do not see the results of the test until after the school year has ended. I remember the principal called my grade level into her office on the last day of school because she just received the PERCENTAGES of how many students passed. As teachers, we didn’t even know who passed. Individual student data wasn’t available until July and by then, we had completely new classes.
Schools eliminate non-tested subjects
What’s tested is what’s taught. As a fifth grade teacher, I only taught Social Studies and Science for 6 weeks of every school year: the last two weeks of April and entire month of May – when testing was over. Teaching before that consisted of Reading, Math, Writing, Reading Intervention and Math Intervention.
The amount of time required
For fifth graders in AZ, we had a testing session in the morning and one in the afternoon after lunch. Each testing session was slated for an hour, however there was no time limit. Since the test determined the school’s report card, we encouraged our students not to rush. Most students took an hour and a half to finish the test. However, normal class activities could not resume until the entire class was finished. This meant that each session ran for two hours or longer. Once in the morning. Once in the afternoon. For four days straight. Not only that, but the weeks leading up to testing were usually spent on test prep activities.
At many schools, teachers acted as the proctors as well. This was not a sit in front of the room and read or work on lesson plans kind of job. We were on our feet, constantly monitoring the classroom, exchanging dull pencils for sharpened ones and making sure the question number that the student was filling in on the answer sheet matched the question number he or she was working on in the test booklet.
Teachers are not allowed to read test questions
Even though we served as proctors, we signed an agreement with the state that we would not read any of the test questions. If we were caught reading questions, or worse, talking about it with colleagues, we risked having our teaching license suspended.
They tell you less about your child’s school than you think.
Standardized tests at the elementary school level are used for one main purpose: to assess the school. However, the scores don’t tell you as much about the teaching staff as they do about the student population. I taught at a Title I school for five years as a fifth grade teacher. My colleagues were amazing. They were creative, inspiring and worked long hours so that they could be there to help students. Over 92% of our students qualified for free or reduced lunch. Our students did not go on vacations during the summers. They could not enroll in costly after school activities. Many of my fifth-graders were trusted to take care of themselves and siblings after school because their parents were working to make ends meet and could not afford child care.
My school district ranked teachers based on the percentage of the class who passed the state test each year. A few years back, teachers whose students scored in the bottom 25% of the district received a letter informing them so. Teachers whose students scored in the top 25% were named outstanding. Many of the outstanding teachers taught at schools in our district whose families resided in a higher income bracket.
In fact, one teacher in particular received a letter one year informing her that she was in the bottom 25%. She moved to a more affluent school the following year and became a top 25% teacher. The. Very. Next. Year.
Our problem in the US is not the quality of teaching or the quality of our schools. It’s poverty. It’s focusing too much on assessing and not enough on learning. On exploration. On life skills like cooperation, grit and creativity that are the real markers of success in the professional world.
Our schools are not failing. We just need to assess them differently.
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