The harsh reality of standardized tests

Drew Michael McWeeneySpecial to the Southern News

Having read volumes of literature on the current state of testing in schools, I am comfortable with the practices that U.S. school districts are implementing due to Washington’s thesis that is as follows: Standardized tests show that scores can rise and are rising; therefore we need more standardized tests so the scores keep rising. However, no amount of knowledge on those readings, experiences observing classrooms, or college classes softens the daunting reality of why testing is wrong for students.

To fully appreciate and understand this testing situation that has most people up-in-arms, we must first come to grips with figuring out why testing is such a plight and drains culture.

In 2009, in an act of clever speechcraft and poor diplomacy, the Barack Obama administration privileged the states with the “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” membership that would aim to penalize teachers because 45% of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student test scores from the SBAC tests. That did nothing to assuage the fact that testing is a plight because it is unfair to teachers. Since we teachers cannot get anything but a rating of ineffective if the students do not show “growth,” those test scores count for a 100 percent and not the already-too-high 50 percent.

Students can not use their technology for months on end because they are needed for testing. Our support staffs that service the neediest children cannot do their job because they have to proctor tests. Students are shamed as aggregate scores are displayed prominently in the halls and the classroom after taking tests. I believe because of that, it is a reminder to students and their failure since test scores bring down student self-esteem. Testing is unfair to our precious students.

This understanding of the testing mindset is essential for an appreciation of the public school teaching experience. Save your breath; you will not engage anyone in a discourse about anything other than facts-as-they-know-it.

Evidence of fear is present because standardized testing causes an even worse situation in our  urban schools that serve people of color because we get to the realization that test scores are now being used to justify the shutting down of neighborhood schools. That is the bedrock in our communities of color. Thus, it has manufactured a massive crisis based on these test scores, and then we use these scores to prove we need to shut down schools.

I could have openly questioned the wisdom of using such scores to justify evaluating schools, but I wisely remembered to save my breath since I am not officially in the profession yet unfortunately.

However, testing paranoia most tellingly and personally revealed itself as a result of quite a tragedy: the outrageous sheer cost of the tests. Think about this for a second: How many after school programs and wrap-around services could be in place if the money went to the schools and not to textbook companies? Standardized tests do in fact help people of color – those motivated by green.

George Orwell explained it best when he wrote “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their own history.” That is, in fact, of one thing you might be certain: Over thirty years of history—I am referring to research—supports the argument that testing, in general, decreases a teacher’s ability to meet the needs of each student. Yes, holding teachers and schools accountable is crucial. However, we need a system that is accurate and fair.

We have had enough talk. We need solutions now. A new wave is building – one that must only include the voices of teachers, not Washington, of how students can learn best.

Photo Credit: Melissa Nunez

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