Via Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
We — the teachers of a public secondary school in New York City — are writing because we wish you to join us in asking this question about what’s happening in our schools. We ask you to consider our experiences and the experiences of our students in a world where schools face more standardized tests and increasing pressures related to their outcomes than ever before.
This year in our school, as in schools across the country, we have seen the number of standardized tests we are required to administer grow sharply, from 25 to more than 50 (in grades 6-10). In the next six weeks alone, each of our sixth-graders will be required to take 18 days of tests: three days of state English tests, three days of state math tests, four days of new city English and math benchmark tests, and eight days of new English, math, social studies and science city tests to evaluate teacher performance. Additionally, students who are learning English must spend two to three more days taking the NYSESLAT test for English Language Learners—a total of 21 days in just the next few weeks.
Consider your own education. Yes, high-school students have always faced college entrance and graduation exams. But as elementary or middle-school students prior to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, you likely had no more than a few days of standardized testing every spring (if that). For today’s students, however, these standardized tests have become a centerpiece of their educational experience. Time spent on these tests is time not spent on learning or teaching. The centrality of testing should be shocking, but instead is somehow accepted as commonplace.
One teacher at our school asked her seventh-graders how they felt about the tests. The word “scared” came up multiple times, as did the word “hate.”
“I feel nervous,” said one, “because you think you’re not going to pass.” Another protested, “I don’t think tests show our learning, and they don’t show our growth.” A third stated, “It makes it more possible to fail.”
If this seems overly dramatic, consider that in New York City, 70 percent of students are labeled “failing.” This is not, as many believe, a function of low performance, but a deliberate decision by the state to increase the number of students labeled “failing” in a move that has created more pressure on teachers and schools, and public support for new—untested—reform initiatives. We question the collateral consequences of such a mechanism for educational change.
Let us be clear at the outset: as a staff, we are not opposed to all standardized tests and believe that, used sparingly, such tests can provide useful feedback to schools, teachers and possibly students. We are instead concerned about their vast and increasing number and—just as disconcerting—outsized influence. The tests are no longer about feedback. The stakes attached to them now commonly include school funding and evaluation and closure, teacher pay and evaluation and firings, and of course student promotion and self-perception. It should come as no surprise that many schools have chosen to focus more and more of the school year on what is often called “test prep.”