It's that time of year again! The time of year when school becomes a place of stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. Yes folks, its everyone's favorite time of year -- standardized test time!
For two weeks every year learning stops in my library. What is usually a vibrant, busy, joyous space is transformed into a testing center. For two weeks I test students on their math and language arts abilities. For two weeks my library is shut to down to all other students. For two weeks there is no computer access. For two weeks I don't get to answer students questions, teach technology or do the job I love. For two weeks I am a slave to a standardized test.
Standardized tests are supposed to evaluate how well our students are doing in math, language arts and science. These days the tests are used not only to determine how well students are doing but also how well their teachers are doing. Test scores can now determine if a teacher has a job next year or not.
This is insane! How does one test made by a for-profit corporation determine the fate of so many people? A test where we don't even know who is making up the questions? A "group of teachers," they say. Has anyone ever met that "group of teachers"? Also who grades these tests? Are they teachers, admins, people extensive knowledge of the topic? No one seems to know... (after posting this a friend turned me on to this blog post about test graders it is scary stuff)
It is disheartening that these tests do not test the whole child but instead what he or she knows about very specific items in math, language arts and science. Social Studies, PE, Health, Art, Music, Foreign Language, Technology, Library Skills, Home Economics, etc. for some reason are not considered important subjects in the world of standardized tests resulting in a huge decline in the offering of classes in these areas of study in today's schools.
So here's a news flash -- am a horrible test taker. Throughout school I had tutors, stayed after school every day and worked really hard but I could not do it. My brain does not work that way. I don't have a test takers brain. I didn't even break 1000 on my SAT scores. If you looked at my standardized test scores in school I would be seen as a total failure. But somehow I pulled off a double major in college, was on the dean's list, have my masters degree and am now one class away from having my supervisory certification. I am certified as an Elementary School Teacher, a Middle and High School Social Studies Teacher and a School Librarian, but I can't master a standardized test.
I left school "college and career ready" but if you looked at my scores on a standardized test you would not think that.
My 9 year old son is an amazing athlete, speaker, avid reader and smart at so many different things. The other day he asked me the if he failed his NJASK test last year. I wondered why he was asking -- he told me he he is being pulled out of his social studies class (which he loves and does well in) to go for test prep. He did not fail the NJASK last year in language arts but he came close. He is not a big writer. He technically answers the questions but does so briefly without elaborating like the test wants and because of this he is now being penalized. Don't get me wrong, I am totally in favor of the district giving him extra help to prepare for the exam but when my 9 year old son asks if he is a failure because he did not answer the questions the way the standardized test wants it breaks my heart.
We are a society that values out of the box, creative thinking but we don't test that way.
I am all for measuring student achievement. I believe we must, but I do not believe a standardized test does that. It does not measure the whole child. It does not provide a clear picture of what a student has learned throughout the year. It doesn't accurately represent how he or she has grown as a writer, artist, etc. I am not sure what the best measure is. I am a huge fan of e-portfolios but if there is another tool out there I am up for that too.
In the next few weeks I will watch as my students get sick in class because of how nervous they are. I will see our teachers stressed because they can only control what goes on in their own classrooms and not what happens at home. Our administrators will be nervous because test scores directly affect school funding and much more. Parents will be upset because they see their children so worried about something that is no real predictor of success later in life.
I love my job. I love my students. I love my teachers and I love being an educator but for two weeks every year I am heartsick because this is not what I signed up for. My students are not learning, my teachers are not teaching and my admins are not getting a chance to lead the school. All we are doing is praying we don't fail some standardized test.
P.S. I recently read an amazing blog post by my friend Tony Sinanis on his take on standardized testing. It is well work a read http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-will-this-help.html
Elissa Malespina is the Middle School Teacher Librarian in Somerville and a Presenter, Author and much more. Find my full resume above.