Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Children Stressed to the Breaking Point Due to Standardized Testing

Recently New York City made public teacher evaluations based on student standardized test scores.  This proceeded the state of New York's decision to change how educators are evaluated, in part by connecting the standardized test scores of students into final ratings.  The following letter was shared with me by a friend whose daughter is in the New York City Public School System.  She plans on sending this to officials in the NYC Department of Education to inform them of the potential that more standardized testing will have as a result of recent reform efforts.

Let me start off by saying that I have tried to draft this letter at least four times without the anger and the frustration that I am feeling.  Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that it is an impossibility to do so.   As my daughter is 12 years old, and already faces the stress and anxiety because of these standardized tests, I feel it necessary, as a mother, to voice my opinion.
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I believe that it is an injustice to all of these children that their level of understanding and competency is judged by a test.  As educators and as leaders of our society, you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Who gives you the right to give my child and all the other children any undue stress and anxiety?  Who gives you the right to tell me that my child will not go forward to the next grade even though she has an 85 to a 90 average?  How on earth do you justify stressing out children to the point where they are actually getting themselves sick over the demands that you are placing on them?

As our children grow, they are also supposed to be learning.  How can these kids learn anything in school when the way they are being taught is ludicrous?  You expect all these children to learn at the same rate and expect them to comprehend on the same level.   Every child is different in their own way, so how can you base their level of understanding on one end-of-year test?  Not to mention that our children are spending so much time learning things that they will never, ever need to know in life.  Do you really think it is appropriate that they spend 2 weeks on learning about rocks and minerals?  Do you really think it is fair that they are given one day to learn new math and the next day go on to learn something new again? How do you justify this? 
Yes, there are some children out there that are able to keep up with YOUR standards, the majority cannot.  In my daughter’s school alone, many kids that were in ARISTA or Honor roll dropped, on the average, at least 4 points.  They are now being enrolled in tutoring services or test prep classes which they never needed before. 
As a parent, education is obviously one of the things we want our children to have, but just as high on the list of priorities are morals, discipline, and confidence.  There are children out there who have some, or none, of these other values.  My daughter, in particular, cannot find the confidence in herself because no matter how well she does in school, the end result is passing these standardized tests.  A child like mine, who struggles with such high test anxiety, although she is receiving the help for this anxiety, still has trouble passing these tests.  She has been in summer school the last three years just because of these tests, but has maintained an 87 average.   Does this seem fair? She is a wonderful student, works hard, gets good grades, focuses, and does what needs to be done on a daily basis.  But still, the Department of Education feels the need to push her confidence to the lowest level.  I guess these other values that make our children well developed and a valuable part of society have no relevance.  I am assuming you can find some sort of loophole to validate this fact as well.  
There are children out there that are barely passing their classes, but just because they find themselves lucky enough to pass these tests, you, as educators, feel like you are doing your job.  Well, my daughter surpasses what needs to be done on a daily basis, as do many other children; the message you are sending is that the school year does not matter, only your assessments and standardized tests do.

I hope you are aware that many other parents feel the way I do, and even your own teachers do not agree with your education process.  This is a disgrace, as these are the people teaching our children.  Please know that this letter, although it criticizes the education process, is also to help you understand what these children are going through on a daily basis.

With all of this being said, what are your thoughts on standardized testing, it's role in education, impact on students, and the data being used to evaluate educators? Is this the direction that educational reform should be headed in? As a parent of two young children my response is a resounding NO!


  1. I am an education student in the tail end of my sophomore year. I am also a mother of two kids, 12 and 9. I HATE parent teacher conferences because they are all: and this is a necessary skill for PAWS (our state's standardized test). I hate it that they only teach to the test now. What about all of the other things that children need to learn? What about test anxiety??? I agree with the above letter. Standardized testing is a joke.

  2. I am an educator and mother in Iowa. They are currently considering legislation to put in place end of the year assessments to decide whether a student should go on or not. I am vehemently opposed to this! The time, energy and resources used to administer, grade, and assess the tests would be better used to teach my children. Is it not the professional teacher's job to assess my child in their class? Is it not the professional, well trained teacher, who knows how my child learns in their classroom and whether or not they have mastered the skills necessary to pass on to the next grade? When it comes down to it, I intend to be a thorn in the side of my school district, as I will do everything in my power to keep my children away from these pointless, time and money wasting, damage inflicting tests! Even if it means risking my job.
    Because schools are given federal and state funding, there are strings attached. The government needs to make sure the schools are being held accountable, and they see testing as the most effective way to do this. But they miss the trees (the individual student, who learns differently and at different rates) for the forest (the general overall achievement of a school district that is receiving the money). I feel part of the solution is to give control back to local authority, and let teachers just teach. The job of the principal, administrators, and local school board is to evaluate their teachers, and help them be the most effective teachers for their students. I see this as getting into the classrooms more, working closely with teachers, offering effective criticism, and not assigning curriculum based on what is on these tests. Effective teaching cannot be evaluated with these tests, it takes getting into the classroom and knowing the students individually, to determine if it is happening. To judge this, they need to see the "aha moments", the connections, the creation, the higher level thinking being demonstrated in the actual classroom (and sometimes out of the classroom). This requires smaller class sizes, a professional learning community of expert teachers and active administrators working together and communicating. It also requires trust that all these people are actually going to do their professional job. That is up to the boss to determine if this is happening.
    And finally, school is not just about mastering a set of knowledge based skills in each class. The most important life skill a student can take away from k-12 education is learning to learn. This is a skill that will last a lifetime. Knowing how to regurgitate information for a standardized test is perhaps a skill that may only be used by statisticians and politicians, who unfortunately seem to be the ones in control of reform.
    A question for you: Why do I see so much resistance to standardized testing from the teaching profession in my own community, in the media, and online, and yet this is still the direction we are going in? Why are we not being listened to?

  3. Chrissy: Thank you so much for taking time to write such a thoughtful comment. I echo all of your feelings towards the emphasis on standardized testing at the expense of real learning. My biggest fear is that teachers will be compelled to teach to the test. This inevitably will squash a love for learning that passionate teachers try to instill amongst learners on a daily basis. As for your questions, my response is pretty straightforward. Educational reform is needed in this country, but it should be based on sound research and the ideas form those of us in the trenches. We will not see any changes in the direction that reform is headed or be listened to until actual educators are asked to the table to offer their insight, ideas, and strategies. I am hoping a post like this will be read by politicians and other "reformers" in the hopes that we can all work together to create a system that puts students first.

    1. One of the questions my first principal asked me during my interview was how I felt about standardized testing. I was just honest, and I think this is what got me hired. His belief was that teachers would teach that passion for learning, and in doing so, would go above and beyond what the test expected. Unfortunately, I am not seeing this in many principals or other administration. The impression I get in my circles lately is the "us vs. them" mentality, where principals are considered "them" because they buy into the need to use standardized testing as the only research-based, measurable way to hold teachers accountable. What is your take on this? If it is state/federal mandated, what recourse do they have?

    2. That is really a loaded question. As far as my school and i are concerned we are moving froward with our transformation efforts to create a teaching and learning culture that is student-centered and promotes essential skills (communication, collaboration, media literacy, creativity, critical thinking/problem-solving, global awareness, etc.). I still see many windows of opportunity regardless of these mandates.

    3. Yes, I agree. Your school looks like an inspiration, and that is encouraging and exciting! Thanks for your reply.

  4. Eric (and Chrissy, by extension)--it's here now! (Teaching to the test, that is.) I have been told, in no uncertain terms, to 'teach to the test.' There is competition among principals to see which school will get the highest test scores. The problem as I see it, is that these tests don't measure things on the higher orders of the new Bloom's or Webb's DOK--that we are stuck in the Understanding, Recall levels and nowhere near Creating, Evaluating and Extension--mainly because these upper levels cannot be standardized or measured on a scan sheet. My 8th graders cannot think creatively; in fact, they cannot think for themselves at all!
    The time for reformation is past. I believe the time has come for revolution! (I've got the torches--who's bringing the pitchforks?)

  5. I am left confused as to why governments "say" they support 21st Century Learning but their actions show otherwise. There is no personalized learning in standardized test, no inquiry, no collaboration; none of the necessary knowledge and skills required by 21st century employers are reflected in these tests. I understand the need to be accountable but surely governments could come up with something better, something that actually matches with what current research tells us is best practice. I work in BC, Canada and we have similar tests that occur at various grade levels once a year. Although these tests still occur they are not used to pass/fail students but nonetheless are controversial. On a positive note, I have seen a shift towards more discussions about portfolios being used as a component of graduation. We need educators to continue to demand reform and accept nothing less.

  6. MAP, COMPASS, PSAE, ISAT, EXPLORE, PLAN...the list of tests that we administer continues to grow each year. The data accumulated from this tests is of little to no value to most teachers and students. Colleges are moving away from traditional measures for admissions with more schools admitting on the basis of a digital portfolios and interviews. Grading policies are changing substantially, and yet, we continue to administer these tests that steal valuable instructional time. Hopefully, this practice will change as higher education shifts it's focus to digital portfolios and web-based applications.
    As a parent, I am more interested in instilling a growth mindset that supports an appreciation for learning and for maximizing each learning opportunity. In short, standardized testing does not fit into my personal philosophy on teaching, nor parenting. I agree with earlier contributors - we are on the brink of 2nd order educational change.

  7. This is such a powerful post. As a mom and teacher, I see daily the need to put the passion, joy, challenge, and fun back into the curriculum and the lives of kids and educators. So many kids see through what is being done, and many know they have teachers who feel trapped and would rather focus on THEM instead of scores. Keeping kids healthy, happy, and inspired by learning must be our top priority. We are all in this together... thank you!

  8. Comment from Steve Ransom: "Although all anecdotal, it pains me to see what has happened to my own children in regard to how the perceive and experience school. My one son is very creative and talented when it comes to language arts, design, science... yet what subjects does he despise? Language arts, science,... My younger son who is quite talented in mathematics and is extremely creative despises math and finds science entirely boring since time is largely 75% spent on completing worksheets and study guides in preparation for the next test... in 4th grade. What I see on a daily basis is the squandering of children's talent, creativity, interest, joy, and love of learning. These are the results of current "reform" efforts. Some of this is not all that new, of course. My own K12 schooling experience was less-than-inspiring. However, instead of aspiring to really improve the educational experiences and outcomes for our students, we're destroying them. And, speaking as a professor in higher education who trains tomorrow's teachers, these harmful learning environments extend there as well. The Maker movement, the DIY movement, the Badge movement, ... are all emerging as a result of these negative and harmful schooling experiences today. How long before our very students revolt and look elsewhere? Or worse... we end up with a generation of mindless compliance."

    Diane Ravitch gets it right in "Flunking Arne Duncan" "