Testing Kills the Joy of Teaching and Learning

On the campaign trail in 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush offered his thoughts on education reform, advocating for more emphasis on assessment. Governor Bush, who later as president signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) came out hard against the status quo with his statement:

"Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning?'[sic]"

After being elected, President Bush made his version of education reform a priority and pushed for more testing. His program received bipartisan support and anyone who questioned the agenda was labeled as being "against accountability" and "for the status quo."

Teachers were some of the first people to raise concerns about the testing culture. The public relations arm of the education reform industry labeled these criticisms as being "anti-reform" and "anti-student" in an attempt to discredit teachers unions. The testing cartel has a reason to smear teachers pushing back. Combined state spending on standardized tests increased from $423 million in 2001 to $1.1 billion in 2008.

It benefits testing companies when classrooms are converted into test preparation factories. Over the course of NCLB's existence, K-12 testing has more than doubled.

Some Chicago parents have complained that their children in the primary grades are taking up to 24 high stakes tests in one year. This testing takes time and resources away from real teaching and learning. It's used to sort out students, and in some cases, test scores are posted at school, shaming students who fail to make arbitrary benchmarks.

Teachers and parents -- the experts in their students' education -- continue building a resistance to this insanity. Recently, teachers from Seattle's Garfield High School declared that they will be boycotting the Measures of Academy Progress (MAP) tests this year and other schools in their district are joining them in solidarity.

The boycotts are part of a growing grass-roots revolt against the excessive use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states. The high-stakes testing era began a decade ago under No Child Left Behind, and critics say that the exams are being inappropriately used and don't measure a big part of what students learn.

Parents have started to opt out of having their children take the exams; school boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems; thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests; superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. It has been building momentum in the last year, since Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, said publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the "end-all, be-all" is a "perversion" of what a quality education should be.

Scott's statements may be, in part, responsible for the Texas State House "zeroing out" funding for standardized tests -- meaning no money has been allocated for standardized tests pending legislative hearings on the matter.

Texas may be on to something. Since NCLB was first implemented, there has not been a moment of reflection for policy makers to determine if these tests are in any way improving teaching and learning. This sorely needed reflection can start by visiting a classroom.

What does the MAP test look like in the classroom? Chicago teacher Greg Michie writes for The Huffington Post on the amount of time these tests take away from authentic teaching and learning.

How much time are we talking about? Well, it takes about three and a half weeks to administer the test to all the students in our school who are required to take it. Multiply that by three (remember, the MAP is given three times per year) and here's the result: the computer lab is converted into a de facto testing facility for over 10 weeks -- an entire quarter of the school year.

As parents, we do not have to accept overtesting. It is a little known fact that parents have the right to exempt their children from the barrage of standardized tests. Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey and his wife, Julie Fain, have delivered a formal letter to the principal of their sons' school exercising their right as parents to opt their children out of all non-state mandated tests for the current school year.

We have become alarmed at the incredible increase in high stakes standardized testing at CPS. This year our kindergartener is scheduled to take fourteen standardized tests. Our fourth grader is scheduled for twenty-four tests, including the ISAT, which is spread over 8 sessions, and REACH assessments in PE, library, music and Spanish. It's simply too much, and too much of a drain on scarce resources at our schools.

These tests carry significant consequences for students, teachers and schools, and we see the effects of this. The curriculum becomes narrowed to cover what is on the tests. Teachers and students become stressed and demoralized. Ceaseless testing is driving out creativity, curiosity, and independent thinking.

Let's bring back the joy of teaching and learning by ending this testing madness.

All photos used with permission.