Education News

More stories on how high stakes testing hurts students

by Colleen Flaherty

In heavily tested grades, more than a month of instructional time is lost thanks to high-stakes test preparation and administration. Parents and educators have spoken up—their schools deserve better assessment and more time to teach.

A bill introduced earlier this year, known as the “Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act,” aims to reduce the over-testing in schools put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act. The bill was a bipartisan effort by Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) who have not given up the cause.

“Working in Arizona schools for nearly a decade taught me the importance of empowering teachers to teach to the content they want their students to master—not simply to teach the material needed to know the next upcoming standardized test,” said Congresswoman Sinema.

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“I have lived a life of accountability, and I understand the need for a means to accurately gauge school performance, but I reject the notion that the only way to achieve this is through burdensome over-testing.”

This legislation would assess students in certain grade spans and reduce the number of federally-mandated standardized tests from 14 to six, the same level of testing required before No Child Left Behind was enacted.

Hundreds of parents and educators have shared their stories on how over-testing has affected their classrooms and children. Here are just a few from across the country:

Sandy P., Woodbridge, VA

As retired Title I math specialist I have seen the standardized math tests affect most of my students negatively. The multiple choice tests do not and cannot assess the developmental level of students and encourage teachers to teach a one size fits all curriculum.

As educators we know better. We should realize that all students are not at the same place developmentally at the same time. Multiple choice tests do not and cannot give a realistic evaluation of students and are forcing teachers to impart knowledge rather than teach.

Way too much emphasis is put on these sets scores and in some cases the teachers themselves are being evaluated based on the scores. So of course the teachers are going to do what it takes to get as many of their students as possible to pass the tests. In fact, getting students to get the right answers on a test is much easier to achieve than facilitating thinking and problem solving.

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Kari C., Leadville, CO

The demands that have been placed on us do not line up with the support we have been given. Budgets have been cut every year, class sizes have grown, and I am now working in two buildings, spread so thin that I feel that even though I am working as hard as I can. I feel I am failing my students every day, and my requests for support have gone unanswered. I have watched children burn out on school right before my eyes during the ten years that I have worked in education, largely due to the intense focus on what will be “on the test”, as if that is the only measure of how well our schools are doing (and it seems to be the only one that matters).

I have classes full of students who gave up on school a long time ago, who hate reading and who see no value in learning for the sake of learning. I believe this is a direct result of how our schools have tried to meet the demands of No Child Left Behind. I worry very much that my daughter, who is in kindergarten, will hate school before she even gets to 3rd grade.

Also, teachers are being accused of not doing a good job. Punishing the very people who work so hard, whose hearts are in the right place, and who refuse to walk out on their students despite poor pay and working conditions, is unfair. I want to be held accountable for doing my job well, but I don’t want to be punished for what I can’t control.

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Connie W., Janesville, WI

Over testing students leads to excessive stress on teachers and students. I’ve monitored student testing, and am sick when I watch children cry during testing that is above their reading level. Children should be tested on their progress from year to year. They may not be at grade level, but they are learning more than they did the year before. That is progress! To expect all children to perform at or above grade level is not only ridiculous but not using common sense.

Then when you evaluate teachers on test scores, you don’t take into account family issues like having to work more than one job to get by, having their home foreclosed, living in their car, or moving from one to another relative’s or friend’s home, stress or arguments at home, and not having enough to eat. I could go on and on. But if you are or were a teacher, you know this is true.

Then when your governor takes away funding for public schools and pay for children who attend private schools, remove teacher contracts, you have the mixing of less pay and more stress.

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3 responses to “More stories on how high stakes testing hurts students

  1. Hi there,
    I am an English teacher in iran. We have the same situation like America. The Iranian university entrance exam has turned to a very high-stakes test which has had devastating impacts on learners, teachers and families. To be seated in prestigious majors such as medicine, law and some engineering in top universities, Iranian university entrance exam test-takers do things they would not otherwise do in the absence of such an exam. This high-stakes test has imposed so many educational, economic, social and psychological impacts on the learners. During the preparation period, some learners get frustrated, do suicide, spend a lot of money on private tutoring, experience stress, have low self image, experience threats to their well-being and stuff like that. As my Ph.D. thesis, i’m working on the Impacts of Iranian Ph.D. exams on its candidates which has now turned to the most high-stakes test in Iran. Passing this test kind of guarantees candidates future lives. So candidates do whatever they can to be accepted in this test. Right now, school teachers and university professors’ performance are gauged based on the results of Iranian BA, MA, and Ph.D. exams. Many Iranian students at different levels of schooling are busy in taking test-taking classes, testing samples, private tutoring, etc,. there are a lot of TV commercials that motivates learners to join special testing institutes for different levels of education.

  2. Why doesn’t anyone question that the people mandating all this stupid testing, and allowing teachers to be scapegoated for the failures of politicians to not approve adequate funding for public education, including the President (whom I generally support)- do not send their own children or grandchildren to public schools? Their families are not subjected to this harmful way of education.

    1. Dear Linda,

      I have questioned that, but as a parent and not a member of NEA, I have no clout. So I did the only sane thing to do which is to home school my son. I can hear all teachers now–“But what about the rest?” I cannot answer for the rest. I will have to answer to my God for how my son was raised and the values that are imparted to him and I do not agree with the PC values being taught in public schools. In addition, my husband and I had 2 parent-teacher conferences with my son’s teacher about the fact that he did not know his math facts, but had memorized them in order. They really did not care. At the end of the year we received a letter from the principal about how “all the children at our school know their math facts”. That was the final straw for us pulling him out. For the most part he is better off for it.

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