Testing, Testing, 1-2-3 (Think about It)

I admit it. I’m guilty. I’m saying it out loud…err…writing it in cyberspace.

I confess. I used to believe high-stakes testing didn’t affect me. Why should it? I teach music. An elective. A non-tested subject. Save for AP Music Theory, I don’t need to worry about standardized testing at all. Not in my classroom!

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. (Or should I say, unsatisfactory?)

Testing is a burden to my school, and a detriment to the academic well-being (and sometimes emotional health) of my students. This is why it is important for all teachers in all subjects at every grade level to join the conversation about high stakes testing. If you think it doesn’t concern you, you’re mistaken. And I can sum up how it affects my courses in one word: remediation. File May 31, 3 21 14 PM

Every year, it is inevitable that some of my veteran students are unable to continue in my classes because they are being placed in remedial courses. Sometimes they are re-enrolled in a class where they failed their EOI; sometimes they must take two classes in the same subject area to catch up. At the middle school level, some of my students are removed from my class several times a week for additional help in courses where they are struggling or behind. No matter the circumstances, it takes away their elective courses. Which is really a shame because that’s one of only parts of their education our students really own.

Here are a few reasons why I question this practice:

 

  1. More doesn’t always mean more. I understand the concept of practice. Believe me. Something I say very often in my classroom is, “practice makes permanent”. I just can’t wrap my brain around why, when a kid is struggling in math, we think the answer is “more math”. Does the kid need remediation? Probably. But how will increasing the quantity of instruction improve the quality of the student’s performance? Besides, we might be missing an opportunity to help a student with concepts by introducing them through a different medium. Here are a few of the ways I incorporate other subject areas into my classes.
  2. We’re removing an opportunity for success. Everybody is a beginner in 6th grade vocal music. Everybody is just starting out in beginning band. The playing field is even. This is not the case in most other classes, particularly the ones we are trying to remediate. When we remove students from electives, we are taking away a chance for them to gain confidence in a setting (maybe the only setting) where they are performing at equal level with their peers. Music might be the only class where students aren’t reminded constantly how far behind their classmates they perform. Art might be the one place where a kid excels, and feels a sense of accomplishment and pride. This confidence can be the catalyst for success in other areas within a child’s education setting.
  3. Students should have some say in what they study. Kids who read below grade level, are struggling in math, or have trouble writing complete sentences (let alone that essay for the writing exam), already more than likely don’t like school very much. I can’t see how we’re helping a child want to come to school and learn by taking away the one or two classes he/she actually chooses to take. Presence is important. If we take away the tiny bit of ownership they have in their education, not only will they leave school everyday exhausted and downtrodden, they will probably start looking for reasons not to come at all.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not assigning blame to administrators, counselors, special education teachers, or any others who are removing students from my classes. Their hands are tied. I am, however, blaming the reformers and legislators who jumped into the high stakes testing boat without seeking feedback from educators concerning how this will ultimately affect our kids. If they had (and had they listened), we wouldn’t be in this “drill and kill” test culture in which both students’ and educators’ performances are reduced to an arbitrary number used to rank and punish. I’m not saying all testing is bad. I’m a “numbers” person, myself. Test data should be used to help us identify places where we can improve instruction and services to students. It’s in attaching such high stakes (grade level promotion, diplomas, teacher evaluations) to these tests that we have corrupted their original purpose.

We hear from teachers of tested grades and subjects all the time about how this practice is ruining education. I hope we keep hearing from them. I challenge the rest of us teachers, the “non-tested” ones, to reflect on how testing is changing the culture of our classroom and our schools. Think about it. Furthermore, I issue a call to join us in the crusade to roll back testing, and to return to the true purpose of school: to identify, celebrate, and nurture each child’s unique gifts.

“You better think…think about what you’re trying to do to me. You better think…let your mind go, let yourself be free.

People walking around everyday, playing games, taking scores, trying to make other people lose their minds. Well, be careful, you’re gonna lose yours.”

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