Is there any good in incessant testing?
I can only concur with Amanda Lacy-Shitama’s article “Incessant testing does more harm than good” when she asks: “What would happen if we harnessed the power of our collective voice and made the choice as a city to simply stop administering these tests…”
A fifth-grader who needs the math questions read to her because she can’t read, a class of pre-kindergarteners who are told that if they don’t pass the test they can’t go into kindergarten, an entire 3rd grade class given a practice test which was mainly to have them practice to sit still and quietly for 90 minutes? Why? I have yet to meet an educator who is happy with the glut of standardized testing that passes as education. I have never met a student that gained anything useful from taking tests that test nothing.
My years as an educator have given me a front row seat to the decline of academic ability since the days of No Child Left Behind. In my book Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart, I intersperse a sampling of the awful work submitted by college level students with commentary about the American public school system. I argue that standardized testing serves no good purpose.
What is revealed is the harm testing does, not just to students, but to teachers, parents and more broadly to society as a whole. Segregating students by race and income is as much the norm now as it was in the years before integration. Lacy-Shitama points out these divisions that are obvious to everyone within the school system.
One thing that students from all backgrounds share is the stress and pressure which they are subject to with the onslaught of high-stakes testing. The emotional burden on students is bad enough, but they are also well aware that the tests they are forced to take are equally detesting to the teachers and school staff.
A general result of the negativity that permeates school classrooms and hallways during test days is an attitude of defeat and apathy. Teachers are expected to pump the students up, schools have banners on the walls promoting how important the tests are, and students are expected to demonstrate their success and feel good about themselves. Everyone knows this is a sham.
Teachers collapse in faculty rooms wound up and tense over having to administer and monitor the test and adhere to the requirements for instructions and rules that are spelled out in testing manuals that detail every aspect of the test and the testing environment.
Students are well aware that the tests are as much, if not more, about measuring teachers and schools, and in many cases they face the tests with apathy at best and more often than not, they don’t even try to pass because they just don’t care.
None of what is mentioned here is new to anyone involved in education, but maybe more to the point is that this attitude translates into attitudes that are eventually displayed by many students when they enter the workforce. A specific skill may be taught and learned, but the greatest drawback and loss is the inability on the part of many young adults to think independently. On the job you can’t ask if it’s on the test. This is the predominate question that is asked by students.
Lacy-Shitama opens her article by imagining what her students hoped for on their very first day of kindergarten, with new clothes, new backpacks and new crayons. As I watched my college students as they neared the end of their schooling, I wondered what they hoped for. I saw new clothes, new shoes and new backpacks and thought: That’s all they think they need to succeed. Looking good on the outside is what matters. They know that they are a number, a statistic, a cog in the machinations of administrations and the government. A standardized test shows nothing but figures.
Yes, we do need to harness our collective power, a premise I expand on at the conclusion of Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart. Collective power puts the power to teach in the hands of teachers. Yes, there must be accountability and standards, yet those are always better evaluated by the educational successes of students. These successes cannot be measured by a standardized test. Teachers can teach, but students must learn and that requires the shared responsibility of teachers, students, families and communities.