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Striking Fear in the Hearts and Minds of Student and Teachers...

Not a plane, bird or even polar bear - standardized tests. (Oh the horror!)

The use of standardized tests really ramped up with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), an initiative that also strikes fear into the hearts of teachers. NDLB required that schools improve to 100% of their students passing standardized tests or they would face serious consequences. If you've had anything to do with education in your life you know that goal is nearly unattainable. When NCLB was finally replaced with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the goal was to have schools show year to year improvement and it left it to states to determine the measures they would use to score schools. Most states left standardized tests in as at least one of the measures of a school's performance, but they are grossly ineffective tools to show a student's growth. Even the best standardized tests are unintentionally biased and a poor measure of what a student has learned.


Students in grade 10 at the school I last taught in must take a standardized test for science. There was usually just 1 question for each standard, meaning if a student got that questions wrong, it would show they failed to understand the state standard. Think about that- 1 question and 1 question only to show what you know. And I happened to see one of the questions as the students were taking the test. It was a questions about genetics (very important topic for students to understand), but the questions showed the picture of a scientist and asked the students to identify that scientist. I couldn't pick out of a lineup most of the scientists who contributed to physics, so that means I don't know anything about physics? (That science test has since been replaced.)


When Finland restructured its educational system a few decades ago, they threw out standardized tests all together in the lower grades and dropped the time students were in classes. The world was shocked when international standardized tests were given to students after about a decade after Finland's experiment began and Finland's students came out with the top scores in the world. Their teachers never had to teach to a test. Instead they collaborated, taught with joy and allowed students time to play.


I know what you are thinking, if we don't assess, how will we know if our schools are teaching our students? Don't get me wrong, assessment of some type important, but we need to find those other types. If you ask any teacher what their individual students know and don't know, they can tell you. They do not need results from a standardized test to tell them what their students a capable of, because teachers do formative assessments to check student's learning all the time.


Recently Congressman Jamaal Bowman, a former principal in NYC, introduced H.R. 1714, the More Teaching, Less Testing Act. It pushes states to develop high-quality, innovative assessment systems while removing the federal mandate for annual standardized testing for math and reading and language arts (RLA) in grades 3-8. It does not eliminate summative assessment overall, but makes changes to ESSA to provide more flexibility to states to use a more balanced assessment, incorporating both summative and formative assessments.


COVID has been hard on students and teachers alike. We need to let teachers teach and find new ways to assess that won't just add extra stress to an already over-stressed system.





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