If you know, and love, children of a certain age, you’ve likely heard about the excess of standardized testing. Or of the prodigious preparation for those tests. Or of the nail-biting anxiety over those tests. Or of the frustration these tests engender in teachers and parents.
This week ushers in Stanford Achievement Tests for younger kids and the Florida Standard Assessments for older students in my school district, the nation’s fourth-largest. Among my oldest granddaughters, it’s been the topic du jour when I’ve asked about their studies. (That, and the admission by one of them that a certain little boy is a better reader than she is.)
They, like too many children elsewhere, have spent classroom hour upon valuable classroom hour serving as pawns of misdirected politicians and a testing industry that has seized upon our fears and profited handsomely from them. If I believed that our teachers’ time and resources were being spent wisely and on a worthwhile outcome, I wouldn’t be so riled up about this obsession. I’d consider it a difficult means to a justifiable end, like swallowing a foul-tasting medicine to cure an infection.
But I’m not at all confident about the necessity or the value of so many tests. And I truly doubt that, when these over-tested children graduate into the world, they will be more knowledgeable — or better thinkers — than students of past generations.
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In hopes of preparing our kids for the 21st century, we’ve lost sight of what schools and teachers should really be doing: encouraging children’s intellectual curiosity, training them in the art of rigorous analysis, and instilling in them a lifelong love of learning. Instead we’re teaching them test-taking strategy. Accountability has transformed from rallying cry to suicide mission.
I am, by no means, an anti-testing advocate. I supports tests for a legitimate purpose. When my now-grown children were in school, FCAT ruled the roost. As they grew older, they submitted to Advanced Placement tests and, for the two youngest, the demanding International Baccalaureate examinations. As adults, their career choices demanded they take professional boards. My youngest is well on his way to taking nine mind-numbing, eye-watering, soul-scraping exams to become an actuary.
This is all by way of saying that yes, tests are necessary. In academia they assess performance and inform teaching. They provide educators with guidance. The pendulum, however, has swung too far in the wrong direction. We’re now more interested in our children’s test scores than what they’re actually learning. Shame, shame, shame.
Last year a survey by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools found that students took an average of 113 standardized tests between pre-K and 12th grade. Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has said our kids take 32 different state and federally mandated exams, in addition to the possibility of 1,200 additional end-of-course exams for every single course.
“So I think if that’s not an indication of teaching time being robbed from teachers and students alike in favor of testing, I don’t know what would be,” Carvalho told NPR recently.
Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping education bill that reduces the testing requirements for public schoolchildren. Among other things, the new law caps the amount of time students spend taking state-mandated tests. Though it’s a step in the right direction, much works still needs to be done to align accountability practices with proven teaching standards.
It’s time to take back our test-taking factories. It’s time to return to reason.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.