The Pitfalls of Testing in Public Schools in the United States

"Stressting" in American Schools

The following paragraph is a representation of numerous classes I have taught over the last several years in a local high school and elementary school.  The initials are only for reference and have no direct correlation to any actual students.  The characterizations, on the other hand, are actual kids with no embellishment.

On testing day, "L", my most insightful math student, forgot to take his anti-depressant and anxiety pills. (Guess what happened when I announced the 8-minute time limit.) The parents of “S” are locked in a bitter and divisive custody battle. (Just do the math. No, I can't help you. It's a test. Yes, I know your two baby stepsisters may be moving out of state.) "E" has the maturity of a second grader yet his guardians won't sign the papers for testing. "J, K, L, and M" are all identified with IEP’s and getting special ed support, but not on this test. (Here, take the same test as everyone else and no, I can't help you.) "O" gets virtually NO support from home (unless it's basketball-related.) She struggles to complete assignments but is actually quite capable. And "N" spent the whole time looking around the room wondering what everybody else was doing.

When I look at the pretty charts the test site gives me, I realize I could have made the same charts without the tests and with some colored pencils.  Nearly any teacher who works with their students on a daily basis regardless of years of experience is capable of predicting within a few percentage points how their students will do.  The difference is that we factor in the test anxiety, family strife and personality “disorders” of our students.  We constantly adjust and evaluate our instructional techniques. Computers don’t.  So why do we continue down this path?  Simple answer: somebody in government has decided that testing will improve student performance.  My premise is that teaching is what improves student performance.  Testing time takes away from teaching time, plain and simple.

In many districts across the nation, formal testing now takes hours out of instruction from kindergarten through ninth grade.  “Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening”  (PALS) is the latest travesty foisted upon our schools in Wisconsin.  It is no “pal” to any five year old or their teacher.  It requires one-on-one testing that takes twenty to thirty minutes per child.  That may not sound like much but multiply that by 28 kids and it totals hours that a trained teacher is not instructing his or her students.  Further, multiply that by three, as in three times a year that this is forced on children, and it totals weeks!   One K teacher colleague stated that it  totals 12 weeks in one school year in which the lead professional in a classroom is sitting in the hall testing one of the students.  In case you have forgotten, we hold classes for a total of 36 weeks.  That is one-third of the school year during which the teacher is distracted by testing.

All of this is to collect data on our schools and students.  It does not further or enhance instruction.  As I mentioned earlier, any teacher worth their salt can predict with pretty good accuracy the capabilities and needs of their students.  I write of Kindergarten.  It just gets worse as the kids get older.  A typical fifth grade student  will spend 360 minutes a year in front of a computer taking the MAP test. AIMSWeb testing is a combination of pencil and paper tests and one-on-one tests that eats up at least 30 minutes times three of instruction time (pencil and paper) plus three hours times three of one-on-one time during which the remainder of the class is busy with “busy work” so that they are quiet for the teacher and test subject.  Throw in the WKCE tests (hours!) and (are you keeping track?) fifth graders lose weeks of teacher-guided instructional time.  One more little “bonus” is that the checking and recording of the AIMSWeb paper tests require hours for each teacher to score and record into the system.  There is no time during the school day for this to take place.  It happens on weekends and evenings, time better spent lesson planning or, heaven forbid, allowing a teacher to spend time with their family and friends.  Of course, most elementary teachers spend hours outside of the school day already checking papers and planning.  THAT is what directs instruction.  “Instruction”,  you know that thing for which we don’t have much time anymore?

To be continued.  Discuss among yourselves and feel free to provide feedback.  I have a thick skin (but I really don’t have time for teacher hating comments so please keep them constructive).  As I tell my students, “If you don’t have anything nice (or constructive) to say, then don’t say anything.”

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Lyle Ruble February 14, 2013 at 04:25 PM
@Jack....Using the verify recall list to review people for employment, will sometime in the future wind up in a law suit. Keep up the good work my friend.
GearHead February 14, 2013 at 07:32 PM
@Lyle: Shooting with blanks again, my friend. Lawsuit? OK, we know you can sue for anything. This is the liberal way, of course. As far as I know, knobs that signed the recall pettitions aren't a protected class. They are just knobs, and knowing they signed is very revealing of their character. Character has much to do with a hiring decision. The list is an excellent screening device. A gift that will keep giving for decades to come.
Kinder Tasha February 25, 2013 at 01:02 AM
nnkallie February 25, 2013 at 01:23 AM
No. It isn't true of all states and/or grade levels. While teachers are given contracted "planning" or "teacher development" time it is often taken away just as fast by administrative duties, monitoring other classes such as study hall, directed study, hall monitoring, lunch duty, and so on. On top of that many teachers are required to call a certain number of parents per day/week and/or meet with them (which generally happens after contracted school hours to be more convenient for the parents). We also have to meet with administrators, other teachers of the same subject for common planning time, teachers of other subjects for cross-curricular planning time and peer observations. Personally, I would sell my soul for 2 hours of uninterrupted planning time a day...and throw in my first born for 3.5...
Terry Van Parys March 16, 2013 at 02:15 PM
I also find the recall list very useful in evaluating potential employees. Signing the recall indicates to me that the candidate is more interested in serving themselves vs. our customers...


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