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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ask a Teacher - What's the Price of Standardized Testing?

Standardized testing has become a growing tradition in public schools across the nation. In 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act. A major objective of this act is that by the 2013-2014 school year (last school year), all students across the entire country would be proficient or higher. The idea of "proficient" was set individually by each state with a myriad of standards covering reading, writing, and math over all 50 states. States strove to reach the unattainable goal of proficiency as the deadline swiftly approached.

With the goal of "proficiency" there was no incentive to teach to higher levels as being above grade level carried no benefit for schools or districts. Students who were performing below proficiency, even with a host of issues influencing their performance such as placement in Exceptional Childhood Education programs (what you remember from your school years as Special Needs), identification as an English Language Learner, gross differences in socio-economic status, and other obstacles, were targeted to reach proficiency at all costs while their proficient or higher peers were left with squandered potential. Children who were incapable of reaching proficiency were shortchanged by being taught the test and those who were beyond capable were short changed by never being challenged at an appropriate level.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This Act then funded an education initiative designed to encourage "innovation" and education reform in struggling states. This initiative was called Race to the Top. With the deadline for nationwide proficiency four school years away, states were encouraged to overhaul their education programs and curriculum. Points were awarded for accepting and implementing the newly created Common Core standards, turning around "persistently low achieving"schools, and other education policies. The reward was desperately needed funding to the tune of millions of dollars that could be awarded to states from federal funding. In an effort to win the money, my own state instituted an education audit that cost taxpayers thousands while teachers interviewed to keep their own jobs before dozens of teachers per school were displaced and rehired at other schools in the district. An elaborate game of shuffling the deck left schools gutted and teachers disheartened and burnt out. In 2010, Waiting for Superman came out demonizing the public school system and public school teachers alike. A profession that already sees half of new teachers quit by their fifth year became a target for politicians and talking heads. Would you want to be a teacher?

As the new standards were accepted by more and more states, a secret war went on to create the perfect test for accountability. There is no one great test for accountability yet. Instead there is a virtual smorgasbord of testing that happens throughout the year thanks to a combination of accountability and the goal of College and Career Readiness. Students take End of Course assessments (called EOCs) in all core content areas, math, English, science, social studies, starting in sophomore and ending in senior year, the PLAN, the ACT, On Demand Writing testing, COMPASS for the unlucky seniors who didn't hit benchmark on the ACT, KYOTE for the unlucky seniors who couldn't pass the COMPASS either, and on and one. The game of standardized testing is a billion dollar a year industry. There are so many tests and so many varieties with schools hoping to achieve points to show how good they are.

The price of standardized testing as it currently stands is too much. The goal of accountability is fine on its own, but the implementation has been a mess that does little to help our students who need it most, turned those who would be excellent teachers away from the profession, and cost the taxpayers billions.

Emilie is a high school English teacher with two children. She holds a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Secondary Education. After completing student teaching at an urban, Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school, she was placed at another PLA school in the same school district. Her Ask a Teacher column can also be found over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes.


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