Monday, April 28, 2014

Apologies in Advance as I Briefly Rant about School Testing.

In a few weeks kids around the country will be taking standardized tests. I've got some thoughts on the subject that could probably fill up a book. I used to be a teacher--but I was fortunate to be teaching at a time when the stakes weren't quite as high as they are now in the standardized testing game. 

I'm a parent too, and I got to witness firsthand what it was like when things started to go off the deep end in my kids' schools. 

Example: when my daughter was in third grade, to encourage the students to get a particular score on a writing test, the teachers gave many many practice tests and posted the model essays on the classroom walls. For further encouragement the kids were given glass beads to wear on a bracelet whenever they got the desired score. 

My daughter didn't get many beads and was heartbroken. She honestly had no idea how to go about achieving the approved score.

Example 2: Right before the testing period, the school held a pep rally with popcorn and balloons and music. The kids who'd done well the year before were paraded around and allowed to eat the popcorn. The kids who hadn't done as well, were allowed to watch. This was a fun way to encourage kids to do their best, said the principal. 

See, kids, maybe next year, you too can eat popcorn and be in the parade.

Then there was the year they didn't teach science because it wasn't on the test. 

What killed me about all of this is I know that everyone's hearts were in the right place. The kids really wanted to please their teachers and do well. The teachers wanted to teach the kids. The principals wanted the best for their students. 

Something was obviously going wrong, though. 

The thing that made it very clear to me was the day the school decided to let the librarian go. This was a woman who knew every child by name, who knew what the kids' reading choices were, and who had books picked out and waiting for kids when they came into the library. 

But dropping the librarian position freed up the money to hire a reading specialist. All of that testing required a full time person to analyze the data and plot out how to improve the reading tests scores.

I have never done a study. I don't know if there is such a study. But here's a question I've always wondered: you know those kids who always have their noses in a book--I don't know, um, let's call them READERS--those kids--

What do you think their reading test scores look like? 

Okay. Getting off my soap box now. 

Good luck, kids, on your standardized tests!

When you have finished the test sections for the day--after you have carefully checked your answers--I hope you attend a school where you are allowed to open up a book and read for a while. 


  1. Thanks for your rant, Jody! These stories are pretty horrifying. The refusal movement is growing here in NY state. My third-grader is refusing the ELA and math tests, and I'm headed up to Albany to protest in a few weeks. Many parents don't realize how much power they have, if they join forces. It's the only way to change things.

    1. I've never heard of the refusal movement, but I totally support it!

      When my kids were young, parents were complaining, but there was no organized effort. I do know parents who used to keep their kids home during those pep rallies, and my family eventually moved and we made sure to choose a school district that wasn't quite so obsessed with tests.

  2. I recently heard the state teachers' union here supporting parents who opt out of testing. The piece on the radio was the first I'd heard of the option.

    At the same time, the stakes are high. Washington State just lost a federal waiver for the No Child Left behind because we don't use test results in teacher evaluations. This likely means cuts in staff for underperforming schools similar to the one you described with the librarian.

    As a parent, I'm not sure what to do but I'd sure like to start doing something to change the direction we've been going for a good long time now. I'd love to see us move more toward Finland's education system:

    1. Thanks for sharing the article, Karrie. Stronger early childhood education may be the key. And it wouldn't hurt to be a bit more supportive of teachers : )

  3. We often forget that by organizing and protesting and opting out we can truly affect change. Who's in charge here? Companies making money off tests, apparently, and there is big money to be made. So we're fighting the same forces of materialism on the school front that we must fight on many other fronts. I hope more parents will reject the "no child left untested" mode of education (or lack thereof). Here's to the teachers who--without interference--would give our kids the quality education they deserve. So sorry about the librarian. Tragic!

    1. You're so right, Kim, about the money. I suspect there's money to be in charter schools too...

      There are real problems in the public schools, but I fear that there are some people who are rooting for them to fail, and that would be the biggest tragedy of all.