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4 Things Every Teacher Knows About High Stakes Testing

There are lots of things within the context of teaching that teachers will have a variety of opinions on.  High-stakes testing is certainly a unifier for many of us.  Here are four things that every teacher knows about testing that stakeholders and lawmakers should have listened to pre-pandemic to prevent some of the stress and pressure on both teachers and students.
Assessments have become punitive.
The primary purpose of assessment is to drive instruction. Period. Click To Tweet
Teachers have an abundance of ways to assess students in both the face-to-face and virtual classroom setting.  We’re creative about evaluating project-based learning, performance tasks, projects, discussions, blog postings, paper, and pencil-based work, gallery walks, and a myriad of other styles and modalities.  Instead of assessment being a tool to help support learners, it’s become a tool used to relegate entire school sites to broad-based generalizations of failure without context.  Students are placed in remedial classes with very little structural support to identify the tangible ways in which the system has failed them.  Actionable plans with specialists take years to develop and implement.  In many places, support services aren’t even given to pre-pandemic levels because of the lack of personnel.
Student and teacher bandwidth is taken up with test prep rather than with the love of learning.
Test preparation instruction can take weeks out of the school year.  Robbing students of valuable creative outlets and real instructional experiences that could enhance student autonomy and engagement.  This often burns the students out and reduces the end of the school year to a gauntlet of one-and-done opportunities that determine their forward progress.
Too many groups benefit from the continued failure of specific demographics of students.
There’s so much money involved in standardized testing. Studies show that states spend over 1.7 billion every year on standardized testing.  It’s no wonder that some of these state governors would prefer to push backtesting than to cancel it.  In schools with student populations that have traditionally underperformed on testing, these companies have developed additional workbooks, printables, and lessons around skills-based instruction.  These supplements are expensive, but seen as necessary to ‘make gains’.
High-stakes tests don’t give an adequate picture of the fullness of the ways in which students have grown as learners.
Every day, teachers across the country celebrate every step forward that students are making in their classrooms.  Students could make three years of growth in one year, but if they are still a year behind their grade level peers?  They will still ‘fail’ the assessment.  This is so corrosive to student morale.  We teach students in a variety of ways, yet we assess them with one or more high stakes paper-based assessments each year.  If differentiation is important for learning, why is it devalued in evaluating progress?
These are things that teachers already knew.
We tried to speak to these problems pre-pandemic.
We asked for better funding.  We questioned how expectations around learning would stay the same when the ways in which we delivered instruction would be radically different.
Now, here we sit on the precipice of another testing season.
This should not be happening.
When in doubt, legislators, do what teachers asked you to do the FIRST time.
Tamara Valdés-Russell is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist who teaches third grade near Orlando, Florida. Tamara has over 20 years of experience loving and leading students with joy and passion. 
Tamara’s blend of real talk pedagogy and love of her craft make her the type of teacher you’d love to have next door!
Find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube with the handle @mrsrussellsroom.

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