Op-Ed Sent to my Local Paper…First of a Series

Posted: April 12, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

On Monday, students across the state will take the FCAT. Regardless of whether or not they must pass this year’s FCAT in order to move on to the next grade or to graduate, the test is high stakes for all students. Those that score below the minimum threshold for grade level proficiency in reading or math will be placed in Intensive Reading or Math classes, as required by state law. This requirement has the effect of excluding these students from electives that might develop creativity or career interests, in addition to stigmatizing them among their peers.

Aside from the negative effects mentioned above, at its core, it may sound like a good plan—provide additional instruction and practice for students who are not performing on grade level. Certainly parents hope that the instruction, practice, and assessments employed will assist their child in reaching acceptable levels of performance in basic skills. But do they?

Students now are subjected to as many as 28 standardized assessments in reading throughout the school year, excluding the FCAT. The purpose of these tests is to determine mastery or need for improvement on the thirteen (out of 81) language arts benchmarks tested on the FCAT. Aside from the loss of instructional time spent administering these assessments, the question must be raised publicly as to whether they measure what they are intended to measure, and to whom this measurement is beneficial.

The results of these assessments may well determine what your child spends their school day working on, what small group instruction they receive, what grades you see on their report cards, and most importantly, how they perceive themselves as students .

Education in its most noble form should model and promote intellectual honesty, curiosity, and integrity. It should promote creativity, problem-solving, and inquiry. It should develop individual talents and natural aptitudes. Incessant testing does none of these things. In at least some schools, the data these assessments produce serve as the only indicator of student success that matters. As struggling students recognize that they’re playing a losing game, they begin to resent their teachers and their schools, and to disengage from the educational process.

As a teacher, I have spent ten years promoting accountability measures because I believe that schools should be required to do what they are paid by the taxpayer to do, and I recognize the value of ensuring basic literacy and numeracy in the citizenry. However, our current approach, which focuses solely on standardized tests and the increasing standardization of instruction to match the tests is not accomplishing that aim, and it doesn’t provide students the benefits one would hope it would. What it does is satisfy bureaucrats and box-checkers while it destroys young peoples’ self-image, motivation, and opportunities to become contributing members of society by labeling them as incompetent and ultimately turning them out of the system with no marketable skills.

Particularly for struggling students, many of whom come from poverty, these circumstances have dire consequences. Many will wind up in prison or spend their lives on public assistance or in low wage jobs. This is a consequence that extends far beyond the individual. It is we who pay to imprison them, we who are often the victims of their crimes, and we who fund the assistance. That money would be better spent on real educational reform that addresses the reality schools are presented with: some students arrive in Kindergarten dramatically underprepared for school and need a longer school year in smaller classes, doing the kinds of exploratory activities and having the kinds of conversations that mimic what good parenting provides, and some kids aren’t interested in pursuing post-secondary education. These young people need technical school options presented much earlier, starting in sixth grade. By tenth grade, it’s too late. They’ve already lost interest in school, because school is only interested in something they can’t do well enough to please the system.

  1. momshieb says:

    Thank you for this very well written and thoughtful post. I have been saying the same things for almost ten years now, and I am becoming increasingly disheartened by the push to test, test, test. I teach fifth grade in Massachusetts, in a school that up until a few years ago was considered to be “child centered” and “project based”. Now my struggle is to let the kids create projects just for the joy of it, and to foster a love of literature without stifling every creative impulse by presenting a “rubric” before they begin to write.

  2. Miss Desiree says:

    Oh wow, don’t get me started on the Marzano-fication of education. I’m all for students knowing how they’ll be evaluation prior to that evaluation (rubrics), but at my school, I’m required to write a new rubric (learning scale) EVERY DAY. Each objective (learning goal) gets its own rubric. I teach high school, so that means for each of my three preps, I have to write a rubric every day. I’m not allowed to use the same learning goal more than one day in a row… Additionally, the only benchmarks I’m allowed to teach are those that are tested on the state assessment…

    No evidence of student learning is considered relevant or valid unless it translates directly to improved performance on mini-assessments that are intended to reflect the high stakes test. No projects matter, no discussions, no reflective writing. And the kicker is that the mini assessments do not reflect the peramaters and constraints of the high stakes test that all my lessons and in class activities must mimic. So: use the test to construct all lessons, make sure I obey the item specs and text restrictions, then assess that using a test written by a third party ($$$) that’s written five grade levels below the one I teach and which contains items which cannot be accurately answered by reading the associated text. Then go into the principal’s office to be toungue lashed about why the kids are or are not passing the mini assessments and explain what I intend to do about it.

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