WA educator believes ESSA can reduce impact of high-stakes testing on students


by Brian Washington

It’s not uncommon for students in Maria Lee’s class to spend three weeks on state-mandated high-stakes tests.

“That’s just for the state tests alone. That time does not include test prep,” said Lee, who teaches English to 5th graders in Pasco, Washington. “We basically quit teaching in English classes around the end of March, and everything after that is either testing or test prep.”

That’s why Lee recently traveled hundreds of miles to Portland, Oregon, to meet with other educators from the pacific region to talk about opportunities contained within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind.

Lee is hoping she can learn something to take back to her education colleagues that will help curb the district’s over reliance on high-stakes tests and, ultimately, give more time back to educators to do what they love–helping students achieve success in the classroom by triggering their desire to learn.

Based on what she’s learned so far, Lee believes ESSA represents a paradigm shift that will allow educators to be more proactive. In her mind, ESSA gives educators a seat at the table where education policy is created and implemented at the state level and allows their voices to be heard.

And if we have a chance to say to the state that this is what’s best for kids before it (education policy) is dropped down to districts and locals, I think that would be better for kids. If we, as teachers and educators, have a voice, I know it will be better for students in the long run.

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WA educator Maria Lee

The Portland conference was sponsored by the National Education Association, which represents more than 3-million educators across the country. Lee is a member.

NEA has set up a resource page to help educators learn more about ESSA. It has also identified some things members and all educators can do to get involved with local ESSA implementation. They include the following:

  • Serving on an ESSA educator task force;
  • Participating in an ESSA community forum/ town hall;
  • Attending a school board meeting and urging board members to include educators’ voices in ESSA implementation; and
  • Sharing information about ESSA via social media.

Lee wants to go back to Pasco and rally her union, education colleagues, and entire community to launch a campaign against high-stakes testing. At this point, she doesn’t know what such a campaign would look like, but she hopes it would ultimately lead to a more concrete look at all the tests students are required to take and the negative impact it’s having on them.

“It’s too much pressure for my 5th graders,” said Lee. “It’s too much pressure for any kid. I am really interested in alleviating this situation for them.”

“I am going to be thinking about how I can plan this out. This is something that we need to present to members and all educators. We just need to come up with a timetable for what we want to do and how we want to do it.”

Reader Comments

  1. There are no high stakes for a 5th grader taking a state test. Simply taking a test. There are high stakes for the amount of classroom time a 5th grader wastes preparing to take the state test. Teacher-student contact time in the classroom is a very important determinant of the quality of the learnings a student will carry from one grade to the next. When you take three weeks or more from a student, with no understanding of the effect of taking that time, you do a disservice to that student’s education. I’d say that, whoever made the statement about a 5th grader taking a test should spend a week in a 5th grade classroom during the test preparation time. This is analogous to complaining about the cost of an auto repair job, with no knowledge of how that work is done.

  2. Exactly what are the high stakes for a 5th grader taking a state test? Please explain. If he/she is held back for not passing – that is a DISTRICT decision, NOT the feds or the states. The tests have stakes for Schools, NOT students. How about telling people the truth and stop using scare tactics?

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