Standardized Testing – By Me and Others

It’s testing season, and so I’m thinking about testing a lot. Thankfully, in my state, we are done with English tests. However, I am missing student almost every day for End of Course exams in their various classes.

This is very inconvenient for me as a teacher, but way more inconvenient for the students. Not only are they stressed about the exam (most of these state-written tests count for as much as 30% of their overall grade in the course for the year), but they also fall farther and farther behind in their other classes for every test they take.

Then yesterday, I found this post on annual testing by Scott McLeod (@mcleod):

It’s a good post. I especially appreciated the line toward the end: “Our inactivity makes us complicit.”

It’s a tough fact to face. I don’t like to believe that I am complicit in over-testing. I spend my class hours telling students to not worry about tests, to not think about them, to just do what you can. I sent a message, using Remind, to all my students on test day. Instead of reminding them about test taking strategy or important terms, I simply said “Take a deep breath and don’t worry. You’re prepared. Good luck.”

Maybe that makes me less complicit than some, but I don’t think so. I have this sounding board, and I’ve been afraid to post about testing, because anyone could find it. Well, no longer. I stand with Scott. Something needs to be done.

Then, this morning, this popped up on my feed:

I get that this is a little vulgar (it’s from John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight) but the content is fantastic. As a side note, shout-out to Rick Roach who’s one of the coolest school board members ever. I’ve met him a few times and he’s just a great guy. Don’t love the way they edited his part of that video, but it is a comedy show, so whatever.

It really is terrifying to realize how much power these test companies hold. Students are completely dependent on them. And anyone who has ever used a Pearson textbook can tell you that their tests aren’t perfect by any stretch.

John Oliver brings up another great point about test security. Given the documents we have to sign, we aren’t even allowed to talk about errors on the test. I understand that they want to prevent cheating (and yes, there are plenty of examples of teachers, schools, and whole counties that have cheated on standardized tests (but given the stakes, are any of us really surprised?)), but why on earth can’t we use the tests to help students and drive discussion? A test finishes, all students finish, and we as the teachers can’t use it for a teaching experience? I can’t walk students through an essay prompt after the fact? I can’t talk about what confused them on the test so they can do better next time?

During a test, I’m not allowed to read over the student’s shoulder. Nor am I allowed to have an extra copy of the test. I’m not allowed to let a student tell me what the questions were or what the passages were. I’m not allowed to ask if it was easy or hard, what they were confused by, what assignments I did through the year to help them most (I guess I could ask that, but I couldn’t ask them how it related to the test). We have access to one practice test, with 20 questions, and that’s it. I don’t know how closely that relates to the real test. I don’t know if the question types are similar, if the passage length or difficulty are similar, or if it is even worth my time to use the practice test again next year.

So who are such policies really designed to protect? The test is already a mess (my students took their state reading test at the beginning of April and we don’t expect results until December…super useful), so we’re not protecting the integrity of the test. They don’t protect the students. No student can realistically remember enough of the test to actually impact another student’s score. Besides, every teacher can tell you the security agreements don’t actually stop students from talking about the test, they just get some of the students to talk more quietly and not around teachers. The gag orders don’t protect teachers or schools for a thousand reasons.

The truth: They’re to protect the testing companies. I can’t point out errors I know if I see them. I can’t point out, even in a general sense, if I happened to see flaws in the test or test questions. I can’t use specific test items as evidence if I want to mount a campaign against testing. My hands are effectively tied, and there is truly nothing I can do about it.

However, thanks to people like John Oliver and Scott McLeod, I will keep talking. I will keep telling people that something has got to give. We do our students a disservice by over testing, and I’ve had enough.

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