Standardized Testing Craziness

Read this article earlier today about the testing schedule in Miami-Dade County Schools where the district testing schedule for the year has been posted to the public. Click the link to check out the schedule, and pay special attention to the number of times high school students and especially English/Language Arts students are tested.

Wow, right? As ELA teachers, one of the sad realities you’ll need to get used to is the number of instructional days you’ll lose because so many extra-curricular things are done through your classes. In the schools, I dealt with everything from school pictures to class scheduling to SEOPs to testing being conducted through my classes since every student in the school was enrolled in an ELA class, making my class the easiest place to conduct school-wide business.

But while I can understand some of these things taking time away from instruction in ELA classrooms (and I can even appreciate some of them), I’m befuddled by the increased amount of testing that we’re starting to see in schools, and ELA classes (along with some other core areas like math and science) seem to be special targets. The more I look over this testing schedule, the more I’m left scratching my head about why we need all this testing and what it’s designed to accomplish–or, perhaps more worrying, what we’re sacrificing in our classes to accommodate these tests.

In terms of our class, this all leaves me with some questions that I think we need to explore and that you, as soon-to-be professional teachers, must give some thought to:

  1. I think our opposition to efforts at expanding standardized testing in the past have been misunderstood as an opposition to testing in general, which shouldn’t be our position since we should readily acknowledge that assessment is a critical component of the learning process. We might need to take a step back and really articulate why we feel assessment is important. If we, as a profession, can clearly express our philosophy about assessment and connect that to principles guiding effective assessment, we can perhaps bring some sanity to the national debate that’s going on right now. And once we’ve established our views, how do we best communicate those?
  2. At the same time as we speak out and try to help our stakeholders understand the proper role of assessment, we’re still going to have deal with the realities on the ground that are taking more and more instructional time away from us in favor of testing. How can we maximize what time we do have for instruction? Here’s where a solid understanding of how to design instruction that effectively facilitates student learning is so critical: We can’t complain about lost instructional time if we’re not using what time we have in solid, engaging instructional activities.
  3. Finally, we have to consider the costs of this increased emphasis on testing. Yes, there’s lost instructional time and that is important. But there are other costs, I think, that might be hidden in the debate. What about student (not to mention teacher) morale in the face of a constant bombardment of tests? (If you read the schedule from Miami-Dade carefully, those high school kids are probably facing a test nearly every month–and sometimes more than one test!) And when we start testing in Kindergarten, what kind of message does that send to impressionable students about the role of testing?

As you take your first tentative steps into this profession, I know it can seem daunting to speak out on some of these issues. But I hope you’ll take the time to think carefully about these and adopt positions and attitudes that will be in the service of kids and their learning–and that you’ll have the courage to speak up when it’s needed.

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