Time to Scale Back School Testing

Do you remember a teacher or other school employee who made a difference in your life? Perhaps someone who really brought an academic subject to life, or who simply helped you through a difficult time? How about a class or subject that thrilled you and made you want to learn more and more, even after you’d completed your assignments and passed the final exam?

Now think back to all of the standardized tests you’ve ever taken. Remember that one SAT analogy question that set you on the course to your future career? The multiple choice math problem that gave you the courage to try something you’d always been afraid to attempt before?

If you are struggling to come up with something, don’t feel bad. Neither of us can either, because while standardized tests have long been a part of public education, until recently, they’ve never been mistaken for its point and purpose.
Let’s stop pretending that a test score tells us all we need to know about our students, their teachers, or the public schools.56660028_20

That critical distinction is totally lost in our test-obsessed effort to turn our students into statistics. These tests are not meant to help teachers monitor student progress and tailor lessons to students’ individual needs. Instead, standardized tests are increasingly used as the single measure by which we judge the success of a school, the quality of its staff, and the learning of its students. And that’s just wrong.

We would never tell a doctor that a stethoscope is the only tool she needs to gauge her patients’ health, even if the tool is useful for its limited purpose. And we’d certainly object if a company that manufactures and sells stethoscopes tried to convince us to disregard ultrasounds, CAT scans and blood pressure readings. In medicine, we accept that no single measure can tell us all we need to know about a patient’s health.

We also know that identifying a health problem is only the first step. It’s much more important to find out what is causing the problem and act to remedy it. We rarely blame the doctor who identified the problem for causing it in the first place.

But in education, a single diagnostic tool – the standardized test — is being misused both to measure things it cannot really measure and to punish schools, students, and teachers for circumstances and outcomes they do not control. Class time that should be devoted to learning is now devoted instead to test-taking and test-preparation. Subjects that aren’t tested are necessarily pushed to the periphery.

Our children deserve better and we can do better. The National Education Association and New Jersey Education Association support a return to sane testing practices. Let’s use these tests as one way, among many, to assess what students are learning and identify areas that need special attention.

Let’s cut back on the number of standardized tests and the amount of class time devoted to preparing for them, and give that time instead to real teaching and learning.

Let’s give teachers and students the opportunity to review test results so they can learn from them.LINWOOD MIDDLE SCHOOL

Let’s lower the stakes, so that schools and teachers won’t be forced to look for every last way to artificially boost scores just a couple more points. We don’t need any more school assemblies to get students pumped up about testing week.

And please, let’s stop pretending that a test score tells us all we need to know about our students, their teachers, or the public schools in our communities.

This year, let’s work together to reclaim the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of learning for its own sake that identify a great public school better than any test score ever could.

This column was published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by

Lily Eskelsen Garcia,  president of the National Education Association.

Wendell Steinhauer is president of the New Jersey Education Association.

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4 Responses to “Time to Scale Back School Testing”

  1. Mary Lamb

    Amen! I did not feel good about how my last school year went. I teach 6th grade in a Title I school. Nothing felt right about it and I felt constantly frustrated. As I reflected about it at the end of the year, I realized that there were several reasons. But the biggest reason was that I had lost some of my focus on the kids themselves. I had spent less time connecting with them and their needs and too much time worrying about pretests, test prep, test practice, and tests! It is too easy for teachers to be goaded into this sort of mindset – focusing on test scores – and I let it happen to me.
    This year is going much better so far as I focus on kids as individuals instead of as little test-taking-merit pay producing units. I am using tests to help me adjust my instruction. I know how to teach and I know my curriculum. Do I think I am a highly effective teacher? YES!!!! Will my test scores show it? Maybe. Will my kids improve their learning and want to come to my class? YES! Do I dare say this – we are actually having some fun this year and I am (mostly) enjoying my 6th graders!

    Reply
  2. Andy Goldstein

    “We need to value our students, our teachers and our public schools and put an end to toxic testing.” A talk given by Andy Goldstein to the School Board of Palm Beach County, FL. August 20, 2014.

    http://youtu.be/ub1Rplka81E

    Reply
  3. Andy Goldstein

    “Testing Has Become Toxic.” A talk given by Andy Goldstein to the School Board of Palm Beach County, FL. July 23, 2014.

    http://youtu.be/jwnXJrh31kQ

    Reply
  4. Andy Goldstein

    “Palm Beach County School Board Passes Resolution Calling for Testing Overhaul”

    From: http://dianeravitch.net/2014/09/18/palm-beach-county-school-board-passes-resolution-calling-for-testing-overhaul/

    Faced with unfunded mandates by the Legislature that require the creation and use of hundreds of new tests, deployed primarily to evaluate teachers, the Palm Beach County school board passed a resolution that basically says “Whoa!”

    The PBC school board will be sharing its resolution with other members of the Greater Florida School Board Consortium, which includes the state’s largest districts and represents nearly half the students in Florida.

    This is the original resolution:

    THE SCHOOL BOARD OF PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA

    RESOLUTION on ACCOUNTABILITY

    WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that
    prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship, and lifelong learning; and strengthens the
    nation’s social and economic well-being; and

    WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money, and
    instructional time on high-stakes standardized testing for the purpose of using student performance
    on standardized tests to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators, and schools;
    and

    WHEREAS, the over-reliance and lack of consistent data on high-stakes standardized testing in state
    and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public
    schools by limiting educators’ ability to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that
    promote creativity, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and deep subject-matter
    knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and
    economy; and

    WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate, limited, and
    often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

    WHEREAS, the increasing over-emphasis on standardized testing has resulted in numerous
    consequences in many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing
    creative thinking, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession,
    and undermining school climate; and

    WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all
    backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of
    color, and those with disabilities; and

    WHEREAS, Florida’s high-stakes testing instruments are not correlated to any national or
    international assessment instruments to allow for a comparison of both student
    achievement and progress in Florida, with student achievement and progress with other
    states and countries; and

    WHEREAS, in the absence of state funding, school districts do not have the fiscal or human
    resources to meet the state requirement to develop end-of-course exams for the 800+
    courses above and beyond the five courses—algebra, algebra II, geometry, biology and U.S.
    History—that the state has developed; and

    WHEREAS, districts currently have to stop classroom instruction that requires use of
    technology during state testing days in order to accommodate on-line assessment without
    the funding for an adequate information technology infrastructure to conduct both
    assessment and classroom instruction at the same time; and

    WHEREAS, the over-reliance on Florida’s high-stakes standardized testing is undermining
    Article IX, Section 1 of the Constitution of Florida which declares that it is “a paramount
    duty of the state to make adequate provision . . . for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and
    high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality
    education” particularly with regard to adequate provision, uniformity, efficiency, and high
    quality; therefore

    BE IT RESOLVED, that the School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, calls on Governor Scott, the
    Florida Department of Education, and the state legislature to provide a three-year transition to July 1,
    2017 for full implementation of Florida standards and accountability, with no impact on students,
    teachers, school administrators, and school district assessment and evaluation changes. Further, the
    Legislature should delay the use of Florida State Assessment results in determining student
    promotion, graduation or for teacher evaluation until July 1, 2017. Districts should be given flexibility
    in the interim to set their own criteria by which to determine student promotion and teacher
    evaluation. Further, use of state student assessment data in the interim should be used solely for
    diagnostic purposes in order to assure that the state’s system is valid, reliable, and fair and to create a
    baseline for FY18; that the State Board of Education should empower a truly representative panel of
    stakeholders—especially educators and parents—who represent all of Florida to validate that all
    segments of the accountability system are fair, reliable, accurate, and funded; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, calls on the
    United States Congress and Administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,
    currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple
    forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed
    role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

    Done the 17th day of September, two thousand fourteen, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    Reply

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