Teaching

The Problem With Testing

Say the month “March” within 80 feet of a teacher, and chances are, you’ll get cold stares, stressed faces, and annoyed looks coming your way. In a teacher’s world, March means testing. It’s out with the old and in with the new this year – students have taken MSA in recent years, but this year they will be taking the PARCC Assessment. And not just one, either! We have a week of PARCC testing in March, and then another week in May for the end of the year assessment. Maybe it’s just me being silly, but how much can students possibly learn in one month to need to go through all of that testing again?!

Testing in general isn’t the problem. In fact, if we don’t require tests in school, we won’t have a concrete method of showing students’ growth and success throughout the year. Tests are a vital way to assess whether students have mastered a skill or met a learning target. There are several problems with state testing, from my viewpoint as a Special Education teacher. First, in education today, there is a big push for inclusion, for differentiation, for individualizing instruction to meet each student’s needs. Curriculum is individualized to a student by providing texts on different reading levels, reducing the amount of problems or number of points students are required to complete or obtain, and modifying work to a lower level or providing enrichment activities.

I learned in my undergraduate studies, and again more recently in my grad class now, about Zygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). His theory holds that students should be taught at their instructional level, which is referred to as their Zone of Proximal Development. This means a student is able to perform a task with assistance, but not independently yet. Makes sense, right? We want to teach students at their instructional level; teaching them at their frustration level would be too difficult, and teaching them at their independent level is pointless since they can already do that skill by themselves. Since many of my special education students are reading below grade level, I work with the classroom teachers to modify work and provide texts at their level. My point being, students are used to reading texts AT THEIR LEVEL.

Well here comes PARCC, and guess what? It’s not individualized. The questions or content aren’t differentiated. Instead, the test puts forth the belief that “One size fits all.” Regardless of their levels, students all take the same assessment, with the same questions, and the same reading passages. How is that fair? How is it right that we should differentiate work all year long, but then have students sit through hours and hours of testing questions that they don’t understand?

Now, students can receive accommodations for PARCC. I know this because of the 2390 forms the county required special education teachers to submit to allow students to receive these accommodations. But I still don’t think merely providing some accommodations is fair – sure, students can’t do those math problems. But let’s give them a read aloud accommodation, so we can read them everything that they won’t be able to do. In my opinion, this is a waste of time. If students are working at a much lower level, how is testing them at a higher level giving us ANY valuable feedback about what they can and cannot do?

Secondly, I always heard in my college classes the importance of allowing students to show mastery of content in various ways. Students learn in many different ways; we have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, so it’s important to provide students with choices to show what they know. One student may be able to easily write a paper to explain a science topic, whereas another student would prefer to set up a science experiment to show how something works.

If we let students have choice in assessment the rest of the time, why do we take that away when standardized testing rolls around? Again, it seems like the minds behind all this testing have a “One size fits all” mantra. The individuals writing the PARCC Assessment don’t know our students, what they’re capable of, their personalities, or what they’ve learned so far this year. So why should they be able to tell us how to assess our students?

The PARCC test is long not only for the students, but for the teachers as well. There’s nothing exciting about timing and monitoring these testing sessions. We are required to read verbatim directions, watch students like a hawk to ensure no one has a cellphone, book, etc. and guard the test materials with our lives. Before you say anything to a student, make sure it’s in your 55 page PARCC Testing guide. I even read a blog article recently about ideas for what teachers can do to keep from going crazy!

So what can we do to help our students throughout the testing process?? Several things! First, instill in your students an “I can” attitude, a confidence to go forth with.  Saying to a student, “You are smart, you have worked hard, and I believe in you” will send a powerful message to them. We don’t want the test to be a source of frustration for our kids. If they know that we believe in them, they will develop a sense of self-efficacy and be more inclined to try their best come testing day. Second, take every opportunity to remind your students of the amazing things they have done this year and how special you think they are. The relationship you have with your students can make a world of difference – check out my blog post, Beyond Pencils and Paper,  where I talk about the importance of relationships in the classroom.

The government doesn’t know and see what our kids can do on a daily basis. They don’t know that Johnny failed seven vocabulary quizzes in a row and got a 100 on the next one. They don’t know that Hannah moved to school just a month ago, and is still learning to speak English. They don’t know the student struggling with behavior problems shared the soccer ball at recess on his own. They don’t see the smiles we see, the laughs we see, and the learning we see. But as teachers, we have the most amazing opportunity to see all of that on a daily basis in our classrooms. So it’s our job to remind students of that, not just during PARCC, but each and every day. Remind your students that they are smart, they are capable, and they can do this.

P.S. Remind yourself too.

answer sheet

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