About those tests…(thoughts on standardized testing)

As we come upon a crazy week of tests in our schools across Texas, I want to address standardized testing.

I was having a conversation with my husband the night before I administered one of the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) exams a few weeks ago. He asked about why I don’t like standardized tests because I had voiced my frustration over the previous weeks that my students, who are supposed to be on a modified curriculum, do not have access to modified tests. In response to my husband, I stated, “I don’t like standardized tests because we don’t have standardized kids.” I meant this in all ways…My students (who receive special education services), other students (who perform at grade level), gifted students, and our own personal children. Students who have Individualized Education Plans are being set up for failure. We are supposed to fill in the gaps for them, but they are somehow supposed to be prepared to take a grade-level test? How? What kind of message are we receiving as educators, and sending to students and parents when we tell them that they no longer have a choice about which tests the students take?

As an educator, it is important that I not cause too many waves…I do want to keep my job, after all. I also acknowledge that the purpose of the test is to make sure the students are learning what the state has put forth for them to learn, as outlined in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). However, I believe there has to be a better way to do this, especially for students with learning or intellectual disabilities.

Part of the issue is that some tests are not consistent with what we understand about child development. We should not be testing children in ways that are developmentally inappropriate. Additionally, the focus on testing has resulted in a lack of focus on helping students develop a firm foundation of basic skills and conceptual understanding, and more focus on rushing to more complicated skills. Seriously… many kids (mine included) don’t know how to write letters (“pencil strokes”)…they draw shapes that look like the letters and numbers. Some students (not just those who qualify for special education services)  also don’t understand basic number concepts, such as what number pairs make 10 and what it means to add 10 to any given number (they are still counting on their fingers). I try to fill in this gap, but I also need to teach (amongst other skills) how to compare fractions with different denominators, 2 digit x 2 digit multiplication, long division, and how to work multiple-step word problems. We are tasked with making sure that children who are not reading on grade level can write 4-paragraph personal narratives with complete sentences, organized thoughts, grade-appropriate spelling, and capitalization and punctuation. Like I said, I’m trying to fill in the gaps at the same time I am tasked with preparing students for these tests that are a challenge even for students performing at grade level. My heart goes out to these children.

When thinking about how our children approach testing, I believe it is important to communicate that the test is not a measure of our children as the amazing growing humans that they are. It does not reflect my son’s energy, creativity, amazing knowledge of dinosaurs, and loving heart. It does not reflect my daughter’s love of reading, compassion, clever wit, and creative spark. I spoke with my children during supper one day this week and discussed the purpose of the test as well as my expectations of them. My message to my children and my students is this: Do your best, but don’t stress. Teachers and administrators get anxious about these tests, but our children do not need to become anxious. They need to know that they are celebrated for all of who they are, not simply for how they perform on standardized tests.