Letter: Time to ditch standardized tests
Time to ditch standardized tests
Bless you, Mark Duff, Basalt High School teacher, for being brave enough to write about the crisis of standardized testing (“Testing: astronomy or astrology,” letters, March 20, The Aspen Times).
You have to look high and low to find a student, parent or teacher in this valley who likes the current “teach to the test” climate that pervades our local schools. (This is not a situation unique to Aspen and RE-1 schools, the emphasis on high stakes testing is an unfortunate nationwide trend). The Brookings Institution estimates that states spend a collective $1.7 billion on standardized testing each year. If parents in the Aspen and the midvalley at large want to make a powerful statement and truly lead their community schools to greatness, they must start saying “no” to standardized testing.
As Duff pointed out, students are not only subjected to the 10 hours of bubbling in the annual TCAP tests, they also have to take NWEA and PARCC tests repeatedly throughout the school year. Teachers spend many hours giving kids sample prep tests. Their daily lesson plans revolve around teaching some committee’s “standards” instead of just inspiring curious kids with the zest for “learning for learning’s sake.” Along with children, teachers are also the victims of this high-stakes testing mania. Teachers can be so much more than fact crammers and test administrators if we just let them do their jobs — their job is to inspire, nurture and intellectually engage the children in their care.
High-stakes testing is bad for kids in so many ways. My children have friends who have literally suffered from nausea, sleeplessness and stress attacks because of their angst over these tests. One friend’s son was scared his beloved teacher would get fired if he didn’t do well on the test (in Colorado, the new Senate Bill 191 says that 50 percent of a teacher’s job evaluation is now based on these silly test scores — it’s no wonder teachers feel compelled to “teach to the test.” Their jobs are on the line each year!) These tests control schools and they lead to decisions that defy common sense. Aspen Elementary had children watch TCAP rap videos recently. Some schools have been doing TCAP prep worksheets since December. What a titanic squandering of learning time!
Last fall, my middle school daughter, an “A”-plus student, asked to be home-schooled because she was so tired of the pervasiveness of “teach to the test” in her school. (We agreed to this and she ended up having a year of magical, high-level, test-free learning). Several of her teachers made comments about “the test” during our fall parent conference. One teacher lamented that the class could not spend more time on a topic my daughter loved, because they had to move on quickly and “learn the next thing on the test.”
Let’s dump the tests and their attendant reductions of real instructional time. Teachers know if their students are proficient or not. They don’t need standardized tests to tell them that — if we’d un-yoke teachers from these tests, all kinds of great learning would happen in classrooms. Proficiency in subjects doesn’t need to be expensive or stress-inducing. “Testing” could instead take the form of mixed math operation worksheets and written essay assignments that are integrated into classroom time.
Last May, in Seattle, brave teachers began a boycott of high school standardized testing. The boycott spread, their school board backed down and eventually made testing optional for students. Students who opted out of the testing had to provide another gauge of their academic performance (but that’s pretty easy … just ask their teachers! Teachers know their students’ strengths and weaknesses. Parents should trust teachers to give them an assessment of the “whole child.” Seattle is not an anomaly; parents, students and teachers all over the country are protesting high stakes testing at every grade level.
If you would like to be a part of a growing movement of smart, concerned parents and teachers, you can opt your child out of all this standardized testing. To use a sample opt-out letter (and read some real facts about this perceived “mandatory’ testing) go to http://www.thecbe.org. Also visit optoutofstandardizedtests.wikispaces.com to get more information. My hope is that this letter will start a broader conversation in our valley about the waste of money and instructional time that defines high stakes testing. Email me if this topic is of interest to you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget: We, the citizens, own our local schools, your tax dollars pay the salaries, and you know what’s best for your child. We can and should create a better learning environment for the children and teachers in our community.
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