being a teacher

A Few Thoughts on Standardized Testing

Across the United States, our testing season has begun.  Walk into our classroom and you will see bare walls and desks in rows.  Students engaged only with their computer.  Utter silence only broken by nervous sighs as students either concentrate or give up.  How many days of this depends on the age.  And I get that this is supposed to measure how well I do as a teacher, I get that this is supposed to be able to compare my students with all those others taking the same test.  I get that this is supposed to be objective because it is the same test for all of the kids.  And yet, as a parent I fail to see the purpose of this test.  As a parent I would not subject my own child to this.  So as a teacher I thought I would share a few thoughts of why I question the test.

We won’t get the test results this school year.  As we speak, I have no idea when the test results will actually be released for these students.  So the tests does not help me teach these kids better, but perhaps it was never supposed to.  Instead come fall the scores will be released and we will look at percentages.  We will make decisions based not on children but on those percentages and hope that we made the right decision.  We won’t know until the following year’s test.

We won’t learn much new information. There are few surprises when scores are released.  They usually only happen when an otherwise capable child did terribly on the test, usually by choice.

Not all students care, even when they like the teacher.  We assume that all students will take their time, do their best work, and actually care about the test itself, yet this can be pretty far from the truth.  I have seen many students simply click through and answer all of the questions because they saw no value in the task.  Their carelessness now determines my evaluation.

The test is not fair.  We pride ourselves on how we teach all students by giving them the tools they need at that time to be successful, yet the test removes most of those tools.  Even students with special education IEP’s are limited in their supports.  How does that actually translate to a worthwhile test measure?  If we wanted to know how all children would do with the same text and questions, I would not need a 4 day test to tell me that.

If we want to know how teachers are doing make it a community exploration.  Look at results from throughout the year.  Ask administrators who observe.  Ask parents who experience their child’s frustrations or successes.  Ask the very children that we teach.  Are they learning?  Are they growing?  Are they more successful now than they were at the beginning of the year?  Are they more developed as human beings?

For the next few days, learning will continue to be at a standstill in our classroom as I hope my students give the test their best effort, because they have grown.  Because they have worked hard.  Because they do know a lot.  I am not sure the test will measure it, I can only hope, after all, I am not allowed to see the actual test that they take.  But I do know that I wish there was a better measure for me to become a better teacher.  That I hope that my knowledge of my students would be counted and measured as diligently as that of a test.  Perhaps some day we will trust the teachers more.  Perhaps some day we will realize that a test will never tell us the full story of a child, that our student’ experiences can never be reduced to that of a percentage.  Until then, I will keep my fingers crossed.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


10 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Standardized Testing”

  1. I don’t miss the testing nonsense in the US at all. I’ve spent the last three years wrapping up my time with students doing some great things. Things I never could do as a teacher in NC.

    I’ve grown as a teacher too because I’ve had to spend the time analyzing my instruction, my assessment instead of being told by the state that I’m worthy of another year or not based on test scores.

  2. Unfortunately, standardized tests are being introduced in Denmark in primary and middle school. Why don’t politicians want to learn from your experiences in USA? They seem obsessed with countable data – and are willing to discard what we know about what works in a class room.

  3. Oh, this dreaded time of year. I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the “TEST”. It is something that all of us teachers go through in the USA and you have summed it up perfectly. Every child is so different and they respond differently from how they learn to how they test. This standardized testing just doesn’t seem fair. Thank you for voicing what we are all feeling!

  4. I certainly hope the pendulum swings back to well- rounded assessment techniques in your lifetime as an educator.

  5. I’m sharing this on every platform available to me. This is the first time in 17 years I haven’t personally been responsible for administering some sort of state test, although our reading program uses Accelerated Reader’s STAR test to evaluate my students’ progress and my success or lack thereof. And everything you say about it is true, up to an including the fact that I am pulling one of my children from testing this year and will get exemptions for both next year.

  6. I am not in a teaching grade this year, but the last three years I have been. Last year I taught 5th grade, and after the testing debacle I decided I cannot do this another year. Our district adopted the SBAC test, which is an online assessment. When it was rolled out to us, we had to teach ourselves, and then in turn teach our students. When I say teach our students, I mean we had to teach them how to navigate through the site, even thought we had no experience. It was stressful for all involved, and we didn’t even take it, because statewide the server kept on crashing. After that I decided I did not want to be in a testing grade, because the stress was too much. I feel for our kids who are taking it now, (my son included), because I feel we are putting too much emphasis on standardized testing. I mean how valid can the results be, especially if you do not have the right environment to do it in?

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