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The Pitfalls of Testing in Public Schools in the United States

"Stressting" in American Schools

The following paragraph is a representation of numerous classes I have taught over the last several years in a local high school and elementary school.  The initials are only for reference and have no direct correlation to any actual students.  The characterizations, on the other hand, are actual kids with no embellishment.

On testing day, "L", my most insightful math student, forgot to take his anti-depressant and anxiety pills. (Guess what happened when I announced the 8-minute time limit.) The parents of “S” are locked in a bitter and divisive custody battle. (Just do the math. No, I can't help you. It's a test. Yes, I know your two baby stepsisters may be moving out of state.) "E" has the maturity of a second grader yet his guardians won't sign the papers for testing. "J, K, L, and M" are all identified with IEP’s and getting special ed support, but not on this test. (Here, take the same test as everyone else and no, I can't help you.) "O" gets virtually NO support from home (unless it's basketball-related.) She struggles to complete assignments but is actually quite capable. And "N" spent the whole time looking around the room wondering what everybody else was doing.

When I look at the pretty charts the test site gives me, I realize I could have made the same charts without the tests and with some colored pencils.  Nearly any teacher who works with their students on a daily basis regardless of years of experience is capable of predicting within a few percentage points how their students will do.  The difference is that we factor in the test anxiety, family strife and personality “disorders” of our students.  We constantly adjust and evaluate our instructional techniques. Computers don’t.  So why do we continue down this path?  Simple answer: somebody in government has decided that testing will improve student performance.  My premise is that teaching is what improves student performance.  Testing time takes away from teaching time, plain and simple.

In many districts across the nation, formal testing now takes hours out of instruction from kindergarten through ninth grade.  “Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening”  (PALS) is the latest travesty foisted upon our schools in Wisconsin.  It is no “pal” to any five year old or their teacher.  It requires one-on-one testing that takes twenty to thirty minutes per child.  That may not sound like much but multiply that by 28 kids and it totals hours that a trained teacher is not instructing his or her students.  Further, multiply that by three, as in three times a year that this is forced on children, and it totals weeks!   One K teacher colleague stated that it  totals 12 weeks in one school year in which the lead professional in a classroom is sitting in the hall testing one of the students.  In case you have forgotten, we hold classes for a total of 36 weeks.  That is one-third of the school year during which the teacher is distracted by testing.

All of this is to collect data on our schools and students.  It does not further or enhance instruction.  As I mentioned earlier, any teacher worth their salt can predict with pretty good accuracy the capabilities and needs of their students.  I write of Kindergarten.  It just gets worse as the kids get older.  A typical fifth grade student  will spend 360 minutes a year in front of a computer taking the MAP test. AIMSWeb testing is a combination of pencil and paper tests and one-on-one tests that eats up at least 30 minutes times three of instruction time (pencil and paper) plus three hours times three of one-on-one time during which the remainder of the class is busy with “busy work” so that they are quiet for the teacher and test subject.  Throw in the WKCE tests (hours!) and (are you keeping track?) fifth graders lose weeks of teacher-guided instructional time.  One more little “bonus” is that the checking and recording of the AIMSWeb paper tests require hours for each teacher to score and record into the system.  There is no time during the school day for this to take place.  It happens on weekends and evenings, time better spent lesson planning or, heaven forbid, allowing a teacher to spend time with their family and friends.  Of course, most elementary teachers spend hours outside of the school day already checking papers and planning.  THAT is what directs instruction.  “Instruction”,  you know that thing for which we don’t have much time anymore?

To be continued.  Discuss among yourselves and feel free to provide feedback.  I have a thick skin (but I really don’t have time for teacher hating comments so please keep them constructive).  As I tell my students, “If you don’t have anything nice (or constructive) to say, then don’t say anything.”

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Bottom Line February 13, 2013 at 04:21 AM
The fact that Ron has not responded speaks volumes.
C. Sanders February 13, 2013 at 04:23 AM
Ron: 3rd party achievement tests measure the effectiveness of teacher and system. Over time, the results conclude level of achievement and trend. You obviously fail to understand that and demonstrate how out of touch you are. Much like Obama running the Nation without a budget ... Blind, deaf and flying at 2,500 feet in a fog with low fuel and a 5,000 mountain range just ahead.
GearHead February 13, 2013 at 05:15 AM
@HRG. Fluffy profits? Isn't that the definition of WEA-Trust and teachers unions in general?
vocal local 1 February 13, 2013 at 08:21 AM
Hello, I was the MAP proctor at Real. Some of the kids tested above and beyond expectations others had not mastered basic concepts such as multiplication tables which was reflected in their scores. The problem I saw was the teachers took the test results and used them more for parent teacher conferences then for remedial lesson planning. Current district goals for unification and adherence to projected district lesson plans don't allow time for a teacher teaching in Unified to review and reteach to use supplemental materials as drills as they strive to teach mastery. Some parents will complain if we send home supplemental work. We teach for instance parts of speech starting in K but we never insist on evidence of mastery before they leave elementary. I believe the rationale is the district doesn't have space in the up coming class to hold kids that really should be detained. In the 12 years that I worked for the district I can truly state that the teachers in Unified are not the "big" problem. I don't think it's the kids and the homes they come from either. The children's classroom behaviors were/are. School is our environment, the kids are there to learn. I can't help but believe that we need to insist on zero tolerance starting at the K level. It's my opinion that parents need to come in for a day or a week or however long it takes when I have problems daily with their child to experience first hand what their child is doing and help me correct undesired behaviors.
CowDung February 13, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Considering the horrible graduation rates we see in many of the cities across the country, shouldn't we be looking to ways to evaluate our schools so we can take action to improve them? The earlier that we can identify deficiencies (in curriculum, students, teachers, school, etc.), the better chance we have at making changes and improvements before students fall too far behind. Personally, I think it is worth the couple of days out of the school year it takes to do the testing. Perhaps you should consider that your personal hatred of the testing is likely playing a part in your students' fear and hatred of the tests. Kids tend to pick up on things like that...
GearHead February 13, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Ron, wearing black arm bands, propagandizing students with union blather, blacklisting fair-share teachers and packing the school board with union sympathisers isn't bullying?
CowDung February 13, 2013 at 05:23 PM
It's great that you hold yourself accountable to your parents, students and the taxpayers. Unfortunately, we still have way too many students that are being failed by our public education system. Isn't it time we take some time to try and figure out why?
C. Sanders February 13, 2013 at 06:45 PM
@Ron: I am in full agreement with the request made in the last paragraph of your article, but wish to point out that the article itself violates the the fair request you make of the reader, because the article itself is not constructive.
Brian Dey February 13, 2013 at 07:13 PM
am- So if the test isbroken into two days, you are saying it is taking the entire two days? Sorry for the brief explanation given about MAP testing and thank you for validating the usefulness of the testing. I know exactly what it is about as I was on the board at the time it was approved and also went to districts to see it in action prior to voting for it. In Charlotte-Mecklenberg School District, it did not take two days to administer the test. While you are being so snark, the reason I left the board was because I was asked by my Village President to research and lead our Village out of RUSD. I think it would have been a conflict of interest for me to do both and I'm sure you agree. I served my full term.
Brian Dey February 13, 2013 at 07:22 PM
Ron- First off, thank you for doing your job. I mean that sincerely, but you really don't understand what the WKCE test is all about. The fodder is that most educators like yourself, have no clue why the tests are administered. Again, I say this with all due respect, these tests are to make sure that what you are teaching our children is aligned with what the state expects you to be teaching them. It has nothing to do with the child's performance, but has everything to do with making sure teachers are not wasting time teaching our children things that they are not supposed to. It is also used to see how students of different groups are performing versus that curriculum. You may want to talk with Dr. Stephen Miller in central office about how they take that data and apply it to the curriculum. I think you would be suprised how useful those tests are in making sure our children are learning through the curriculum.
Brian Dey February 13, 2013 at 07:25 PM
vocal local 1- Thank you. That is exactly right. That is why many of children that thought they were doing great in elementery hit a brick wall going to middle school. Applied accurately, MAP can be one of the best tools in a teachers assessment of a student and the best part it gives a heads up to the next teacher that will get that child.
CowDung February 13, 2013 at 08:00 PM
vocal local 1: You state that you are a proctor for MAP, correct? Does that mean that you (or other proctors) would typically be spending the 12 weeks sitting in the hall testing students for PALS rather than the 'lead professional in the classroom'?
Denise Lockwood February 14, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Hey guys... let's try to keep the conversation productive. I appreciate those of you who have kept to the topic and treated Ron with respect. I've already had to delete a few comments that were flaming/attacking/off topic. Thanks!
Johnny Blade February 14, 2013 at 01:28 AM
I have to agree with Ron, get the government out of the school system .. and by that i mean totally, what do we need forced government indoctrination for? Eric Holder is already tring to outlaw Homeschooling .. he says it isn't a right to teach your kids, the government knows what propaganda to teach your kids
am February 14, 2013 at 04:03 AM
Vocal Local 1...MAP essentially should be used as a universal screener to be able to look more closely at students and begin to look at what students would benefit from some interventions. It is another "tool" to help teachers begin to have some conversations around data and how they may alter and begin to meet some student needs within the curriculum. In looking at some of these posts I am simply concerned that there are people that don't have a clear understanding of how MAPS should and could be used within a school district. Though each district will use it as it seems fit it is concerning that you were a proctor and don't seem to have a clear understanding of the purpose of MAPS. @ Brian Dey...MAPS testing takes typically an hour for each section, students who are excelling tend to take that full hour if not a little more, some students would finish in 30 minutes, depending on the time they took to complete the test. My point is that unless you have been in that position as a classroom teacher, or for that part a proctor I don't believe you should be making judgement calls.
Mr Lundt February 14, 2013 at 04:26 AM
" My point is that unless you have been in that position as a classroom teacher, or for that part a proctor I don't believe you should be making judgement calls." That is pure rubbish touted by the unions to avoid accountability
Bottom Line February 14, 2013 at 05:29 AM
While you are fair in expecting people to be respectful, Ron (while he may be a good teacher) presented an argument against testing by referring to challenges that have nothing to do with testing ... review his A-Z listing of problems in the body of his offering. He followed up with a response (and I was surprised that you delayed my request for response by 12 hours and posted it after he responded) with more appropriate reasons to object to certain testing. His reasoned response, which was not in his initial article seem sensible. It would serve the community well if he and others applied objective approach when trying to achieve changes that have merit. My dissatisfaction is that he and others usually want to suggest they are martyrs ... they are not, and that taxpayers are insufficient providers, they are not. He is being more than fairly compensated, and the societal issues that distract educators from simply educating have been ignored, or pacified by the same people that expect the taxpayer to resolve by paying even more - and money is not the issue ... it is a lack of discipline, a lack of accountability, a lack of expectation. Let's just move continue nonsense like a Students Bill of Rights ... this conversation is 20 years past tenable.
vocal local 1 February 14, 2013 at 09:48 AM
AM, remember, Racine fired the superintendent who implemented Map and the reading and math instructions that were built into it. We were working with two hour reading and language blocks and if my memory is correct an hour of math. All four for instance 2nd grade classrooms split the children per their MAP scores into groups. Each teacher had two groups. We worked one on one with one group for twenty minute intervals while the other group did desk work. Lesson plans were difficult at first at least for me but the fringe was I had kids that were all at about the same achievement level. When they hit a snag we slowed down, when they grabbed a concept and ran we sped up. Our Map scores were just beginning to reflect increased learning when it was canned along with the superintendent. We also learned via MAP testing that our Signature’s Reading Book was weak in Vocabulary. The district purchased Story Time the new reading and language series. We also divided the kids for Math instructions. I thought we were moving in the right direction when it was all canceled. The teacher with the lowest score/achievement kids in either subject generally only had a couple of very low skills remedial students leaving the teacher with the ability in regular classroom instruction time to work very small group, and one on one.
vocal local 1 February 14, 2013 at 09:56 AM
Without separating the kids by achievement as a teacher you know in a regular classroom when were instructing kids with a wide range of achievement and skills that were teaching the average student not the advanced or our greatest weakness, the remedial. The point I’m trying to emphasis is we have to have all of the parts to build a solid base and structure. Perhaps your right AM. To what purpose is MAP currently being used if we are only using the testing not the instructions critical to complete implementation and learning.
Denise Lockwood February 14, 2013 at 12:43 PM
Bottom Line, I apologize for the delay in publishing the post. Because the discussion was getting a little off topic, I had to change the settings so that they required approval before posting. I don't like to do that because I can't always get to them as quick as I'd like, but I assure you that it wasn't done intentionally.
Tansandy February 14, 2013 at 01:39 PM
I would like to interject a little information about our so called good school system RUSD. Having a relative who attended the so called "best elementary school" in RUSD, and from kindergarten though second grade was a straight A student. They had to move, so they attended an elementary school to the north of Racine. We thought that the great grades would continue in third grade. WRONG! Seems this child was almost a half of year behind. Struggled through, and is doing fine again in fourth grade. And surprise, they do a fair amount of testing in that district.
CowDung February 14, 2013 at 02:13 PM
Denise: When is my 'pending approval' comment going to get posted? It's been 'pending approval' since 1:12 pm on Wednesday, February 13, 2013...
Denise Lockwood February 14, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Eeeks... I'm sorry Cow... I didn't see it and it's not showing up on my end. Can you re-submit it?
CowDung February 14, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Ron: I was hoping that you would stop laughing at all of us 'ignorant fools' and take some time to explain why you think that a tool for judging schools (the WKCE) is "a sham".
Mr Lundt February 14, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Lets be clear the test are a tool. They are not the only tool and they are not the ANSWER, they are one of the measures used to determine how individual students and the school district as a whole is performing. Don not let teachers suggest that only they have the power to identify issues because they know the secret sauce. The reality is that much can be realized through simple eye tests. If I see a doctor I can tell if his treatments are effective. I may not know what my treatments should be but I know that if the Doctor is continually under-performing, I would be a fool to keep returning to him for treatment. When my child had map test they did something Amazing. They said he was low in this area in math---we will work on on. He worked on it and test scores went up. I do not need an advanced degree to know that without testing we would not have found the issue and been able to solve it.
Lyle Ruble February 14, 2013 at 04:25 PM
@Jack....Using the verify recall list to review people for employment, will sometime in the future wind up in a law suit. Keep up the good work my friend.
GearHead February 14, 2013 at 07:32 PM
@Lyle: Shooting with blanks again, my friend. Lawsuit? OK, we know you can sue for anything. This is the liberal way, of course. As far as I know, knobs that signed the recall pettitions aren't a protected class. They are just knobs, and knowing they signed is very revealing of their character. Character has much to do with a hiring decision. The list is an excellent screening device. A gift that will keep giving for decades to come.
Kinder Tasha February 25, 2013 at 01:02 AM
*you
nnkallie February 25, 2013 at 01:23 AM
No. It isn't true of all states and/or grade levels. While teachers are given contracted "planning" or "teacher development" time it is often taken away just as fast by administrative duties, monitoring other classes such as study hall, directed study, hall monitoring, lunch duty, and so on. On top of that many teachers are required to call a certain number of parents per day/week and/or meet with them (which generally happens after contracted school hours to be more convenient for the parents). We also have to meet with administrators, other teachers of the same subject for common planning time, teachers of other subjects for cross-curricular planning time and peer observations. Personally, I would sell my soul for 2 hours of uninterrupted planning time a day...and throw in my first born for 3.5...
Terry Van Parys March 16, 2013 at 02:15 PM
I also find the recall list very useful in evaluating potential employees. Signing the recall indicates to me that the candidate is more interested in serving themselves vs. our customers...

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