Set Up to Fail: High Stakes Testing in Public Schools

Imagine being a nine-year-old child. Picture yourself studying for a test, walking into class, feeling confident you prepared the best you could. How would you feel if after finishing the test you only understood half the questions? Would your confidence be shaken?

Over one-third of students failed Utah's state required standardized assessment last year. Florida purchased questions for its standardized test (commonly called the "FSA") from this seemingly flawed Utah test and many expect Florida will see similar results. Earlier this month, Florida legislators, recognizing the potential issues with the test, signed a bill promising not to hold back third graders who fail the FSA this year. However, elementary students had already walked away from testing a week earlier feeling inadequate and confused. High stakes testing sets a child up to fail.

Even when a school employs hardworking teachers and has the support of parents and local business partners, some schools serve students that live in homes that fall below the poverty line. Research tells us that the number one indicator of how a child will perform on a standardized test is whether or not that child lives in poverty. Our flawed standardized testing model sets even the most talented teacher up to fail.

For a moment, walk in the shoes of a school administrator.
You want to guide your teachers and provide a solid curriculum for the students enrolled in your district. However, states are purchasing required tests from large for-profit corporations. You are caught between trying to provide quality education to your students and maintaining the financial backing from the state to do so. Unfortunately, these goals are often mutually exclusive. High stakes testing sets up even the most altruistic school administrator up to fail.

Now take the perspective of a parent.
You childproof your home. You vaccinate your child. You put your child in a car seat and you teach her the golden rule. After providing your child a foundation, you send her off to public school, dropping her off at the schoolhouse gates confident that the school system will be your key partner in her education. As the school's partner, you plan to stay involved every step of the way.

But you soon find out that corporations, not teachers, created the tests your child will take.

You learn that the innovation and creativity you worked so diligently to harness during her first few years of life could be jeopardized by the "high-stakes" testing culture saturating her public school classroom.

You watch as important subjects like history, art, and music drop from the curriculum as these subjects are not covered by the common core curriculum.
You know your child needs an empathetic and patient teacher, yet you watch as teachers shift focus because of standardized testing standards. Assets like empathy and patience work against our best teachers who know their performance review will be based on how much and how quickly your student is able to learn.

Perhaps worst of all, your child takes her first standardized test and comes home reporting that she was required to sign a piece of paper promising not to talk to you about the test or the testing procedure itself.

High stakes testing sets parents up for failure, too.

This is the current climate of public education in our country. Students, teachers, and administrators know the system isn't working. It's not too late to fix it. Children desperately want to learn and succeed. Talented teachers are ready to provide comprehensive, engaging, and exciting lessons to their students. School administrators are eager to motivate and inspire their districts to use innovative and creative approaches in the classroom. Parents want to partner with their local public schools.

Teachers and administrators can't fix the system alone. But parents and community members can help. "To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain." Louis L'Amour

Get involved. Write to your state and national legislatures. Let's change course and set students, teachers, administrators, and parents up for success.

This views expressed in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

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