Saturday, April 6, 2013

11 Reflections on Standardized Testing

It's April. For most, that translates as tax season, but for me it means standardized testing. My students have one more test next week, concluding their yearly assessment. It would be an understatement to say that they are exhausted.

Teachers take a vow of silence standardized testing because we cannot help students. The students were shaking in their boots, despite the prior week of my cheering them on and saying they're going to do great. A silent day in school is a rarity, which gave me some contemplative space as I proctored the test. I meditated on the standardized tests and wondered about their efficacy in determining a student's proficiency in reading and writing. I began writing down the thoughts that came to me as I watched students work.

1.) Standardized test scores do not reflect a student's musical ability.

I have a student who is below proficient in reading and writing, yet he is a wonderful musician, yet h​e calls himself stupid.

2.) Standardized test scores do not not reflect a student's inquisitiveness and desire to learn.

Some of my brightest students are the laziest and care the least about what we're learning in school. Some of my struggling students ask the most questions. One student so greatly desires to learn, he often spews out several questions in quick succession -- in broken, "below-proficient" English.

3.) Standardized test scores do not reflect a student's social skills.
Meaningful friendship is one of the most beautiful things. I see more backbiting, meanness, and harshness in my advanced class than I do in my below-proficient class. I see kindness (for the most part) from my struggling readers and writers.

4.) Standardized test scores do not reflect a positive attitude towards school.
I have one student who behaviorally is not ready for school. He's not mature enough to work with his friends instead of play or talk. He is mean, critical of others, rude, selfish, and defiant. He hates doing work in class, and I rarely get him to do anything. He is also advanced in reading and proficient in writing.
5.) Standardized test scores do not reflect the student's work ethic.

I watched one student toil over his reading and writing test as if his life depended upon it. He probably will not be proficient, even though he is one of my hardest workers.

One of my laziest students will pass with flying colors.

6.) Standardized test scores do not reflect the quality of teaching the student has received.

One of my students will be tested as if he received my teaching, when in reality, I probably saw him one month out of the entire school year so far. He comes into school typically right after Language Arts. His score will be attributed to my name. Lovely.

7.) Standardized test scores do not take into consideration severe behavioral and emotional issues that some students face due to broken home lives.

Alcoholism is a serious problem in rural Alaska. Many of my students have recently been talking about how their parents have been "super drunk" or "super wasted." Therefore, they haven't been getting good sleep at night because of the alcohol issues.

One student lamented, "This is the third death in my family this year. Two of them were suicides. My relatives keep killing themselves. I can't do anything about it."

Another student is extremely oppositional and defiant. When I asked him to open his test booklet, he said, "What do you think I'm doing, genius?" He then proceeded to randomly fill in the bubbles -- until somnolence took over.

8.) Standardized test scores do not reflect a student's artistic ability.
Now, the aforementioned student is a gifted artist. Really, he is. Despite his penchant for sarcastically calling me genius, I recognize the good gift he has as an artist. The state test doesn't assess his imagination or creativity. So, of course, because he struggles with reading and writing, he thinks he can't ever improve. And because no one assesses a student's artistic skills in school, he doesn't think that it's a true talent and skill. He doesn't even know that his artistic ability and creativity is a special gift that makes him unique.

9.) Standardized test scores promote arrogance.
Many schools level their students based on scores. From kindergarten on, my advanced students have been together in class due to leveling. They know they are the advanced class, and there's a certain arrogance, entitlement, and elitism that results from that.

10.) Standardized test scores do not assess a student's ability to work within a team.
The majority of jobs in this world require teamwork. Instead of instilling interpersonal skills that will actually help students in their future, teachers are tempted to do the dreaded and much-maligned act of "teaching to the test." I have been tempted to "teach to the test" and to teach out of a soulless basal. (Roll eyes. Gag. Repeat.)

11.) Standardized test scores frustrate teachers because we know they are not true reflections of the student achievement and success.

We know our students.

We know whether they were in court last week to testify against a relative or whether a student was out of town due to a suicide in the family.

We know which parents are drinking like crazy and which ones have a home-cooked meal for their children every evening.

We know which students love P.E. and which ones love journaling.

We know which students love hunting and which ones love sewing.

We know which students care for animals and which ones torment animals.

We know which ones have fetal alcohol syndrome and which ones come from teetotaling homes.

We know which ones can stay out all night and which ones have to go home right after school and do their homework.

We know which ones go home to babysit for six hours after school and the ones who have enriching extracurricular activities after school.

The public schools cannot change people.

Only the family, the community, and the culture can change the public schools.