On High-Stakes Testing

This week is State testing week for Tennessee high schools which means a couple of things:

1. We haven’t had real class for weeks. Since coming back from spring break two weeks ago, pretty much every class has been devoted, in large part, to review for Tuesday’s End-of-Course test (EOC). To me, there is no bigger waste of time than review. If a student does not yet understand a concept by spring break, the only “good” that can be done by reviewing is (a) making them feel stupid and frustrated for still not getting it or (b) putting it in their short-term memory just long enough to spit it out on a bubble sheet. Either way, they won’t be able to use or apply the concept next year when they need it.

2. The students are anxious. All year we’ve been telling them about this test that makes up 25% of their final grade (a fact they’ve been trying hard to ignore), and now that test is imminent. The date is set, the booklets are in the building, we’re out of time. Of course they feel a little crazy.

3. The teachers are anxious. In Tennessee, EOC scores, namely their “value-added” effect (Aside: When did education become manufacturing? Can’t we use a more appropriate moniker?), count for between 35 and 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Of course they feel a little crazy. (Not to mention the effect scores from Algebra 1 and select other classes have on a school’s standing for “the list.” Administrators are feeling a little crazy, too.)

4. For the next week, I will be bored out of my mind. I will be administering tests three of the four testing days this week, meaning no sitting, reading, drawing, writing, eating, drinking, planning, or even grading for the first three hours or so of each day. How many times will I be able to play, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing…?” Only time will tell.

5. The last two weeks of school will be torturous. Getting students who have already taken their EOCs to concentrate and participate for two more weeks will be like trying to mud wrestle a mannequin made of soap in a giant cast iron bathtub. No matter how many grades you say you’re going to take or tests you say you’re going to give, those kids are checked out.

This list is one reason I am so excited for our implementation of the Common Core next year. Now I know it’d be naive to think there would be no testing push next spring, but I have hope that because of the kinds of assessments we will be giving through PARCC, it will be less realistic to try to get teachers to teach to the test or spend learning time talking about the “letter of the day.” I have hope that the end-of-year assessments under PARCC will feel more like a natural application of the learning the students have been doing all year and less like an “I won’t love you anymore if you don’t do well on this” letter from the education system. Laugh if you want, but don’t burst my bubble yet. I’d like to at least wait until the spring to be disappointed.

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