Across the country there is growing pressure to require even more standardized testing in our classrooms. As an elementary teacher in the Mattoon Unit #2 school district my students (6-7 year old; first graders) are facing another year of even more required “district assessments”.
Our testing program began in 1995 and has grown each year. Large sums of money have been spent in anticipation that our district will be ahead of the federally mandated “standardized testing” that seems imminent. With the Bush administration pushing for tougher standards and more accountability students will face even more required testing in the near future. However, as noted by Stan Karp in “Bush Plan Fails Schools” (Z Magazine, April 2001), “research demonstrates that the states which administer the most tests and attach the highest consequences to them tend to have the weakest education programs.”
Our central office has required that teachers write and administer district tests. Teachers were paid to create these tests, but many teachers felt intimidated into writing these local assessments and now feel intimidated into giving them on a schedule so frequent that experts on young children would be appalled.
The tests questions are given via an overhead screen, so students answers the questions at the same time and move on at the same pace. Picture 6-7 year olds facing an over head screen, hands gripping a #2 pencil with a big red eraser on the end, scan-tron sheet on the desk and the 10-27 question multiple choice “TEST” begins. We have in the past been required to have 3 questions for each objective listed. For example, if the objective is to find out if a 6-7 year old child can tell the difference between a map and a globe, we are required to test this objective in 3 separate questions. Question 1) does this picture show a map or a globe? Question 2) does this picture show a map or a globe? Question 3) does this picture show a map or a globe? By now even 6-7 year olds are laughing at this ridiculous series of questions with verysimilar looking pictures of maps and globes.
Most parents are probably not aware of the amount of class time spent on test preparation and test administration. This past school year I was required to test 6 times a year in Science, 6 times a year is Social Studies, 14 times in Math and this school year we are adding numerous tests in Language arts. Not counting the incoming language arts test, last year I used approximately 50 bubble grid test forms with my students. For younger children, especially, much of this time could be better spent doing hands on activities. Learning by doing and thinking!
Make no mistake, most teachers agree that testing is necessary and want to know if our students are learning what is taught. However, at the primary level more appropriate methods can be used to see if a child knows the difference between a map and a globe. The best method would be to observe the child as they use these materials. Projects that allow hands on use of material have long been proven to be a more developmentally appropriate method for the assessment of young children.
The current required testing situation began in Mattoon (1995) with the hiring of a curriculum director placed in charge of developing tests with teacher input. Teachers were reluctant to write tests when we already had plenty of assessment tools that come with our texts. The tests that accompany our textbooks already measure material that we are required to teach. But these tests were not good enough since their use varied accordingto teaching style, and therefore, vast amounts of data could not be compared through out the district.
Teachers were using assessments as necessary; noting variations in class level and individual differences. We were not, then, all on the same page of the same unit on the same day. Now we are on a very strict schedule that allows for little variation. The classes move on ready or not with little attention paid to the differences of the students in the various classrooms.
Our curriculum department says that our students are making too many errors, erasing too often, omitting questions, and making too many extraneous marks on these grids. Much to the dismay of the central office curriculum director, young children get frustrated with what they consider meaningless bubble grid tests. Nonetheless, the schedule has been set and “messy grids”, not easily read by machines, do not go over well when deadlines must be met. And besides, we are told, having 6-7 year-olds use scan-tron sheets will assist them later in life when they will be required to fill out government forms. If it were not so sad it would seem funny.
The Bush administration along with local politically motivated demands for higher scores, tougher standards, and accountability are pushing students away from meaningful class time learning. As students spend more time with “bubble grid” testing there is less time for authentic learning. Students in the early years of school need opportunities to investigate and work with real material in the school setting. As teachers we try our best to offer these hands on experiences. When we are required to test in a manner that does not go along with the students learning, or maturity level, or our own teaching style, real accountability is lost and actual learning is not measured. Under the banner that this “test mania” form of accountability is good, my fear is that the most vulnerable children will be left behind. With politicians calling for accountability in schools it seems we are headed for even more demand for data, not necessarily for learning.
Parents and teachers should begin to question these tests and organize to let politicians and local administrators know that resistance to them is the most appropriate way to assure quality learning for our young children.