I don’t remember much about elementary and middle school. I tend to block out those awkward years of my life. However, I do remember having to take the STAR test in 5th grade. My teacher, Ms. Tracey, used to allow us to bring “brain food,” like Goldfish and Cheez-Its, and pillows for a post-test nap. Those were the good ol’ days of test taking. As a student, we always saw tests as ridiculous. Teachers, however, were annoyed at having to “teach to the test,” a phrase that I didn’t begin hearing until graduate school. We’ll get to that in a bit.
In my first teaching assignment, in 2014, I had to administer the CAASPP for the first time. For those unfamiliar, the CAASPP replaced the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program in 2014. is “a system intended to provide information that can be used to monitor student progress and ensure that all students leave high school ready for college and career. The CAASPP includes computer-adaptive tests in English–language arts and mathematics as well as paper-based tests for science.” The students were used to taking it, but I had just received my credential so I had only heard horror stories of “teaching to the test.” This was my first time seeing how the test even looked. There were no meetings of the minds of how to administer it. They (other teachers) just told me, “Miss B, you’re going to enjoy this part of teaching: the kids are silently taking the test and you can sit at your desk and grade.” There were no additional steps to it. Cool beans.
I decided to work at a charter school because they pride themselves on giving teachers almost complete autonomy over their classrooms. I knew that students would have to take the standardized test occasionally, for standard alignment and verification purposes. I mean, performance is a huge part of how charter schools receive their sponsorships.
Last year, students only took the CAASPP and maybe one other standardized test. Let’s fast-forward to this school year—there are more tests! Not only does my school administer the CAASPP, but we also have the Aspire ACT and ANET interim tests. So many darn tests! These tests are supposedly going to help teachers and students see where their weaknesses are and hone them throughout the year. This is only partially true. The more testing we have, the more I notice gray hairs start popping up.
Here’s the problem with testing:
- Students are sick of them. My students have gotten to the point where they would rather have more homework and quizzes than tests. Having to sit quietly for two hours and stare at a computer screen is difficult for even adults. How can we expect students to do this multiple times per day per week per month?
- There is more work for teachers. After each test, teachers have had to get subbed out to grade, review data, and make plans for next steps. In each 8-hour data meeting, teachers sit in a vacant classroom and discuss the data: why students did bad on certain parts of the test, common misconceptions, and what WE can do to make sure students aren’t failing in this area again. For example, in the last test, students scored low on identifying point of view and how it contributes to the meaning of the text. My next steps were to review point of view. I had to change directions midway through our unit to make sure students understood it. Not only that, I had a deadline to teach it, AND had to bring data to demonstrate that I taught it and understood it.
- They don’t change anything. At our school, we believe in social promotion. No matter what our test scores show, students are still going to pass to the next grade. The most the scores will do is show who should be in AP/Honors classes in the next grade.
- They take away from valuable class time. I’ve broken down the remainder of the school year. We have approximately three weeks of instruction left, but about eight weeks of testing. Eight?! Why is testing so important that we have to take eight weeks to do it, instead of using that time wisely?? On top of that, we have to get a substitute to cover for us while we grade things that won’t even go into the grade book. Eight weeks, plus the time needed to grade, is way too much.
Now that I’ve become a teacher, my problem isn’t teaching to a test, it’s testing to teach. With each deadline to reteach standards, I find myself becoming more and more exhausted and less autonomous.
How do you feel about standardized testing?