It’s a question I hear a lot as a teacher. Let me see if I can explain. When I was in high school back in the 1990s, we had standardized testing, but it wasn’t anything like it is today. Our test was a pretty simple reading, writing, and math test to make sure you had the skills to make it on your own outside of high school. I knew a few students who didn’t pass it, but very few, and these students were generally ones with severe learning disorders. So, I understood the point of standardized testing when they first began being implemented. Knowing how to read and do simple math so you can get and keep a job are valuable skills, and if we aren’t teaching that in schools, we are failing our kids miserably.
Then the test started to evolve though. We started to test more often and the test got harder. “Our students are failing,” they claimed, so of course testing them more often made sense. Teachers were told they would get valuable data from these tests that would help them teach more effectively. Just one problem though. Teachers don’t get any data until the following year. I work in a school now where I have my students for two years in a row, but that is not the norm, so if my 7th graders were tested and I didn’t get the data until the next year when they have a different 8th grade teacher that isn’t very helpful is it? Then teachers were told that we could use the data from the previous 7th grade class on the upcoming one to help guide our teaching, but that would only work if all the kids were the same from year to year. Let me ask you, are your kids exactly the same? Nope, and neither are the ones that come to us year to year.
So I decided to get involved in testing committees in my state. My thought process being that as long as these tests existed, I wanted the best training so I could prepare my students to pass. What better training than writing test items, scoring test items, and setting cut scores?
One of the first committees I was on really opened my eyes. You see, a few years ago, after No Child Left Behind was passed, schools were told they needed to have 100% pass rate by a certain year. Now you probably think is pretty impossible just on its own, but wait it gets worse. This committee I was on was one to determine if the pilot questions were “good” questions to determine if they would be placed on future tests. Our job was to look at test questions and if too many kids failed the question, we were to throw it out. Sounds fair right? Except we did the opposite too. If too many students got the question right, it was also thrown out. How was a school ever supposed to reach 100% if questions most students got right were thrown out? I began to get disillusioned.
Then I signed up to score for a test that I had never heard of before, and when I showed up, I was floored. I had no idea there were standardized tests for non-verbal students. These are students who don’t speak but communicate with pointing a finger or moving an eye. Now, I am not saying these students didn’t deserve a quality education, they did and they do, but to test them on it was ridiculous. And my state shelled out a ton of money not only to administer the tests, but then to train people to score the tests. We sat in a room for a week, with catered food, discussing whether an eye movement amounted to a passing score or not. I was sick. How much money was wasted on tests like these? And why add that stress to these teachers?
Then I began looking deeper at the regular test.
Before becoming a teacher, I worked as an education assistant for the developmentally delayed students. These were 7th and 8th graders who could barely tell the difference between a dime and quarter, much less count them, but they were being tested on pre-Algebra. Needless to say, they didn’t pass, and the school’s report card showed it. How fair is it to judge a school on a test some students will never pass because it is above their level? Oh, and another little-known fact. Students are allowed to opt out of these standardized tests, at least until 10th grade, but when they do schools get a zero for that student and zeros kill a school’s report card. Again, how fair is it to punish a school’s rating if a kid is absent or chooses not to take the test? Why isn’t the score determined on the students who actually took the test? Probably because if it were, more schools would have a higher pass rate and there would be no need to change the test and make more money.
Enter a new director of the Office of Public Instruction, and I thought maybe he would step up and change these inane tests, and he did make some good changes like making more multiple choice and cutting down on the amount of questions, but he also decided to rename the test. My state spent thousands of dollars to reprint the exact same questions on new papers with the new test name. Very few of the questions changed, and I know because again I was working on committees writing them and scoring them. In a state where we can’t fully fund education, I was again sickened by how much money we were spending on changing the name of a test.
Then Common Core happened and once again the tests had to change name. More thousands of dollars spent and now the “whoever is in charge” decided that pre-Algebra should be taught in 7th grade and Algebra in 8th grade. Now, there are some kids who can do this, but studies have shown that a lot of students’ minds don’t develop before 10th or 11th grade to do Algebra, but hey let’s force them to do it sooner and make them feel terrible about themselves when they struggle in the process. And instead of teaching them a math they might actually use in the real world like balancing a checkbook or calculating APRs, let’s make them take Algebra I, II and Geometry, so that they hate math even more because they don’t see the point of it.
Be honest, unless you are a math teacher, how many of you deal with adding exponents every day?
Not only did the tests change names again, but they became harder. I took the 8th grade math test and struggled through it, and I have a Master’s in Education. If I struggle as a middle-aged woman, how fair is it to place this test on kids and threaten withholding graduation from them if they don’t pass? There are also many stories of legislators who received such concern from parents that they took the test as an example and failed. These tests are no longer basic knowledge requirement tests, now they are college preparatory tests, but here’s a little secret – not all kids want to go to college AND we still have the SATs and ACTs for those who do. Even a poet of one of the poems used on a STAAR test (the Texas standardized test couldn’t answer the questions about her poetry.(https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/01/07/poet-i-cant-answer-questions-on-texas-standardized-tests-about-my-own-poems/?utm_term=.09d3922e2881) So why are we making our kids so stressed out by these tests? Because the test makers say we should. By the way, the test makers write our textbooks now too, so CHA-CHING, more money for them. And we buy them because they say they’ll prepare our kids for the test. Well of course they will because they write the tests, and when they want more money, they can just change the test and then change the text books. It’s a vicious cycle we have been sucked into.
Last year, I gave a speech to the school board about these tests, and in my research, I found that there is a significant number of tests that get returned to scoring facilities with vomit on them (http://standardizedtests.procon.org/) Why? Because students are so stressed out by the tests that they throw up all over them. Why on earth are we stressing our children to the point that they are losing their lunch on a test booklet?
Is this test going to help them in the real world? Nope. Will it get them a job? Nope.
The only thing these new tests are doing is lining the pockets of the people who make them. So what is the purpose of these standardized tests? The only one I can point to is making money for the test makers, not exactly heart warming, is it?
Lorana Hoopes is an author of children’s books and adult inspirational books with a touch of romance.Her books are available at Amazon.Heartbeats series Wishing stone series