Is Standardized Testing is Changing ME for the Worse?

Blogger’s Note: This was a tough post to write.  It feels like a confession that I should probably just keep to myself — but I gotta believe that other teachers of tested subjects are thinking the same thoughts as I am.  While this isn’t super polished, I hope it makes y’all think.  More importantly, I hope y’all will still stand with me even after knowing how testing has changed who I am as both a person and a practitioner. 

Bill

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Regular Radical Readers know full well how I feel about the impact that standardized testing has had on education.

#notabigfan

#puttingitmildly

Having spent the past FOUR DAYS watching my students take multiple choice exam after multiple choice exam — 10 HOURS of learning time that none of us will ever get back — I’m wrestling with the moral consequences of teaching tested subjects again tonight.

You see, early on Monday I decided to start recording the spontaneous thoughts about testing that came to my mind over the course of the week on an index card that I carried in my back pocket.  By the end of the day today, I had 10 different thoughts on my card — and I honestly don’t like much of what I see:

IMAG0544-1

Here are three thoughts that have me particularly troubled:

“I’m actually feeling pretty good about things!  I know for a fact that I mentioned almost everything that was on my test.”

This was my response to a buddy who asked how I was feeling after my students finished our science test on Wednesday.  You see the trouble spot, don’t you?  Since when did mentioning things become a cause for celebration?

The answer is easy:  Mentioning things is a cause for celebration when your end of grade exam covers a massive curriculum and measures progress by asking low-level, fact-driven questions.  I definitely prioritized coverage over meaningful learning in the past few months even though I’m doubtful that my kids will remember much of what we learned in our short-sighted sprint to measurable glory.

I should be ashamed of that, shouldn’t I?  And as a guy who believes that true learning should inspire kids to change the world around them for the better, I am.  But I am also relieved that nothing on the test would have caught my kids completely off guard.

#sheesh

“If they are going to evaluate me based on test scores, they’d also better find a way to spread out the special programs kids on our grade level.”

Because of a nontraditional calendar, my school is broken into four groups of teachers and students that are called tracks.  The track that I work on tends to have more students with learning disabilities than the other tracks simply because we have more special education teachers in the building while we are in session.

But because of limited budgets and positions, many of those students are mainstreamed into science classes — the subject that I teach — without any special services.   And because of limited budgets and positions, our state didn’t design any modified versions of the end of grade science exams for kids with significant learning disabilities.  Every student took the exact same test.

That left me worrying about my evaluation scores, y’all.  I should be ashamed of that, shouldn’t I?  And I am.  Instead of seeing my students with disabilities as the unique, beautiful, capable people that they are, I saw them as a liability — as kids that were likely to hurt my professional standing.

#sheesh

 “I’m glad he thinks his kids struggled.”

After our common exam was done, I crossed paths with another science teacher in our building who was pretty convinced that his kids had struggled on our common exam.  He was definitely feeling defeated and I could tell that he was professionally down.

As a guy who is passionate about the power of Professional Learning Communities, I should have been there to lift him up, right?  I should have been ready to lend a hand and to help him brainstorm ways that we could both improve our work together.  I should have been a sounding board and a source of support — of him as a practitioner and as a person.

But the first thing that popped into my head after our conversation was, “I’m glad he thinks his kids struggled.  Maybe my scores will be better than his.”

I should be ashamed of that, right?  And I am.  Collaboration with colleagues has helped me to become the teacher that I am today.  My best instructional practices were polished with — and by — intellectually generous peers.  But I’m more than a little convinced that my “me first” thinking is nothing short of an inevitable by-product of working in a state that has decided that competition between teachers for contract protections is a good idea.

#sheesh

Long story short:  I’m starting to realize that standardized testing isn’t just changing EDUCATION for the worse.  It’s changing ME for the worse.  I wrestle with that reality every time troubled thoughts like these roll through my mind — and I’m honestly not sure how to feel about myself as a practitioner anymore.

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Related Radical Reads:

Three Flawed #edpolicy Assumptions Every Parent Should Pay Attention To

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year

Walking Moral Tightropes

The Monster You’ve Created

A Short-Sighted Sprint to Measurable Glory

 

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7 comments

  1. Fay Wisner

    Dear Bill,

    You more than likely are right about your feelings with regard to standardized testing. Grouping and listing amount to no more than “stereotyping”, a word that we have known in our ethics training that has been swapped out and replaced with the word “standardized”. In standardized testing, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer, just identifiable to those who seek to place school-aged children and college entrants into specific groups for “processing”. Those in one group are the individuals who will most likely “move forward” in education, and those who will not directly effect the masses. I believe the root of the issue (to clearly identify) is governmental control. I have done some research across my years in college, and see a “marked change” in attitude of the “powers that be in government”. If the government controls criteria and curriculum in education, they may mold it into whatever they choose to benefit the government’s purpose. The individual at the helm is President Barack Obama. He appears to be moving toward “NWO” many of our age have read or at least heard about. …decades in the making, we are moving quickly toward that direction. We can choose to stand idley by and watch American freedom become a thing of the past, or we can take a stand and turn the tables. If we do not peacefully act, American citizens will be drawn into this regime, and things like free will and discernment will no longer be ours to enjoy. Thank you for your blog.

  2. Carolyn

    Wow… you sure said what WE are ALL thinking in PA. I had to nod my head when you mentioned the special needs students. I am one of the learning support teachers and I think about it on a regular basis…. Why should my evaluation be lower because I work with lower students? How is that fair to me? If anything, maybe I deserve a gold star for what I do!! My students are still making progress, just at a slower rate and a lower plateau. I can’t hardly be mad at them. How is that fair of the state to hold the same expectation for all students? How is that fair to the school that happens to house several special needs students? How is that fair to our community to say we produce unachievable students? ggrrrrrr I, too, have thought about the “mentioned the topic” idea as well. It angers me to no end that I cannot spend more time on a topic that my students may be engrossed in because I need to “touch” on everything else prior to the state test. Students, especially lower students, are not going to retain a bunch of random information to the level that is expected. Seems so pointless and a waste of time. I am a firm believer that less is more.

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  4. Judi Hadden

    I have a secret confession. I have been an administrator or about 15 years. When I was in the classroom and forced to give final exams, I complied but unless the students did really well on their exam, I didn’t use the ark. Just tucked it away. Always a bit of fear I guess that someone would find out but kids and there true value were more important.

  5. ushistorysage

    I appreciate your candid reflection, and I must admit I burst out laughing (which is better than crying I suppose) because I find myself in the same predicament. Our tests aren’t quite so low level anymore here in Texas. We’re not allowed to discuss, look, or ask students about the test. Thankfully the state has agreed to release the test this year…so we can see why our kids have dropped from having a ninety percent passing rate to a meager fifty percent rate for the last two years. It’s a crazy cycle. Thanks for bringing my thoughts to paper and know you’re not alone.

    • Bill Ferriter

      US History Sage wrote:

      Our tests aren’t quite so low level anymore here in Texas. We’re not allowed to discuss, look, or ask students about the test.

      - – - – - – -

      This is one of the rules in NC too, Sage — and it drives me freaking bonkers. Not only do the kids want to debrief after exams to check and see whether or not they really knew what they thought they knew, but by refusing to allow teachers to see the results of the exams (including a detailed item analysis), it’s impossible to identify the gaps in student mastery that exist in our classrooms.

      Add on top of that the flawed practice of tying results on these tests to my evaluation, and that’s screwed up all the way around. I’m okay with being held accountable as long as you give me the tools and information that I need in order to improve my practice — and knowing what kids are missing on the tests you’re using to hold me accountable is DEFINITELY something I’m going to need if you expect me to improve my practice.

      BTW: I’m JAZZED to see the changes happening in Texas. If y’all can step away from the lunacy, other states will follow.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Bill

  6. Christina

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, you’re not the only teacher to feel like that! I’ve definitely had those same thoughts during this finals week…