As school gets ready to break for the summer, I cannot help but revisit the debate surrounding standardized testing. Arguments for testing are looking for “fair” ways to test which teachers are really performing well and what schools deserve a reward for their performance. Arguments against are centered around the idea that our kids are learning a test and not actual general knowledge. From someone who does NOT work in the school system: it all seems like a big mess.
But after loosely following the APS cheating trial last month I started to look a little deeper into this whole standardized testing stuff. I have a few questions:
What is it like to teach?
“About half of all teachers leave the profession within five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2009)
It seems as though it’s very difficult for teachers to really enjoy their job when their entire career is riding on their student’s performance on one test. While I understand that measurements have to be taken in some way and that evaluations are necessary, it seems like these tests are the source of much anxiety; which leads to what people often refer to as “teaching to the test”. I don’t think most teachers started out in education for that. Is this one of the reasons teachers are transitioning out of education? Are we holding teachers accountable for things they cannot control?
What’s it like to learn?
I’ve listened to the gossip amongst third graders and the talk of the playground in April is TESTING. They all just want to pass this test.. So now we have teachers AND students stressing over these exams. I wonder how much information these kids are retaining from year to year? We have all studied for an exam and a week later knew nothing about that subject. Is that happening to our youngest minds? Are they learning or memorizing? Are they placing their self esteem in these tests rather than their overall performance as a person and a student? This story from 11Alive about a student impacted by the APS cheating scandal was heartbreaking: Here. Max Blau wrote about a study conducted by Georgia State University about the impact of the scandal. The study found that 97 percent of the APS students affected by cheating were black. What message is that sending to our most vulnerable students?
What’s it like to lead?
When you walk into some schools around Atlanta – their previous school wide test scores are posted on huge signs. New comers to the area ask about the scores to decide where to send their kids. Funding depends on the scores. Your staff needs these scores. You as a principal NEED high scores. How as a leader do you create a healthy work environment that centers around honesty and a genuine love for education when it all comes down to a test at the end of the year? It seems really challenging especially for our inner city schools who have other sets of issues (safety, quality books, decent facilities). How does a principal keep staff happy and students educated when the threat of losing funding is ever present?
The education system is a business set out to empower, educate and inspire youth. Our job as teachers, parents and community members is to work to create environments where all children and school staff can thrive and prosper at school, grow as people and discover a love of learning. Is standardized testing killing that?
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