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.”