Standardized testing does not help teachers — it punishes them
The biggest problem I have with standardized testing it that it actually generates data that is 100% useless to the school AND the classroom teacher. This article from 2019 explains why.
In schools throughout the country, it is testing season–time for students to take the Big Standardized Test (the PARCC, SBA, or your state’s alternative). This ritual really blossomed way back in the days of No Child Left Behind, but after all these years, teachers are mostly unexcited about it. There are many problems with the testing regimen, but a big issue for classroom teachers is that the tests do not help the teacher do her job.
The article goes on to say that data is siled for so long that the kids move on to another teacher. Teachers are forced to take a test ethics workshop and swear that they won’t even look at the questions, let alone record them or analyze them. Once the test is submitted, only a score is released — teachers don’t even get to know in most cases which standards the kids were failing.
Instead, high stakes testing as required by NCLB and race to the top often punishes teachers for teaching in certain zip codes and areas of the USA. Quite often, their very pay is tied to test achievement. That’s right, my fate every year was given in the hands of about 30 ten year old students (I was a 4th grade teacher). This inevitably means that teachers, in order to minutely increase their meager salary, have to teach to the test instead of for deeper understanding for mastery.
Oh, and your principal knows if your data sucks. Get ready for a plan of improvement if it sucks. Get ready for many more unnecessary meetings and micromanagement if the data sucks. Because I had to take an extended leave of absence my third year, the data for that year was terrible. I was put on an improvement plan for my fourth year, which is what ultimately burned me out. All in the name of standardized testing.
Standardized testing gives students unnecessary anxiety and stress
Studies have shown that students are negatively impacted by too much emphasis on standardized testing.
Standardized testing, which the No Child Left Behind Act and then the Every Student Succeeds Act required, causes increased stress for students and can consequently impact their physical wellbeing. When stress builds up in students, it can cause them to feel physically ill. Before the No Child Left Behind Act became law, a group of psychiatrists, child development authorities, and teachers suggested to Congress to reconsider the bill, which would make students take an increased amount of tests, especially since they stated that “test-related stress is literally making many children sick” (Alliance for Childhood, 2001). They emphasized that the idea of the act is beneficial, but students, their learning and teachers will suffer in the long term.
I’ve had students vomit in the middle of test sessions because of the stress placed on them. I’ve had students be mysteriously absent on the days right before or right after testing, and inquiries to the parents indicate that the students were sick because of the stress of testing. But it gets worse.
Similar to stress, test anxiety, defined as “general anxiety students experience in testing situations”, impacts all students disrupting their abilities and greatly effects their academic achievement (Lowe, 2019). Approximately ten to forty percent of students have a general rate of test anxiety and fifteen to twenty-two percent have high levels of it. According to psychologist Patricia Lowe, students as young as second graders, age six to seven, have experienced testanxiety. The study conducted analyzed how 1,221 elementary school students in grades two to five expressed test anxiety, and what level of it they possessed by utilizing the Test AnxietyScale for Elementary Students (TAS-E) administered to students. The scale includes the four aspects of test anxiety: Physiological Hyperarousal, Social Concerns, Task Irrelevant Behaviors, and Worry. Physiological Hyperarousal is the physical actions connected to test anxiety, while Social Concerns is the social test anxiety of students meaning consideration of other’s reactions to one’s negative test performance. Task Irrelevant Behaviors is one’s nervous movement within a testing environment, and Worry consists of mental test anxiety, thoughts concerning failure of a test and consequences for failure (Lowe, 2019).
Students know what is at stake for themselves and their favorite teachers (and even teachers they dislike). We are literally giving kids mental illnesses due to irrelevant and useless standardized testing. Studies have shown that Gen Z (the first to have grown up entirely under NCLB) has unprecedented rates for mental health issues (some of that is better reporting, but not all). COVID has only exacerbated the the mental health issues of students, leading to a full blown mental health crisis.
Standardized Tests are Often Racist and Classist
Many of these same communities have suffered the most from high-stakes testing. Since their inception almost a century ago, the tests have been instruments of racism and a biased system. Decades of research demonstrate that Black, Latin(o/a/x), and Native students, as well as students from some Asian groups, experience bias from standardized tests administered from early childhood through college.
“We still think there’s something wrong with the kids rather than recognizing their something wrong with the tests,” Ibram X. Kendi of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at Boston University and author of How to be an Antiracist said in October 2020. “Standardized Tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black and Brown minds legally and exclude their bodies from prestigious schools.”
Standardized testing is only good for measuring two items — how much melanin a school has and how poor a district is. These tests have been plagued by racist application of data since they were introduced over a century ago. That’s right, eugenicists are tied to standardized testing.
During the early to mid-twentieth century, the pseudoscience of eugenics gained popularity among elites throughout western Europe and the United States.1 Fascists and progressives alike found comfort in the promise of regulated human breeding amid the demographic chaos of Western industrialization and urbanization. 2 In the United States especially, a massive flood of new immigrants 3 prompted calls for “race-purifying” policies-such as marriage restrictions and forced sterilization-to protect the “well-born” from genetic degradation. 4
Throughout the early 1900s, eugenicists labored to devise objective methods of measuring and quantifying valued traits, including intelligence, in order to substantiate their hypothesis of Nordic genetic advantage.10 Some of their more preposterous experiments involved measuring the crania of school children,” analyzing the facial asymmetry of criminals, and sketching the toes of prostitutes. Eugenicists struggled for years to produce compelling results, until the advent of Alfred Binet’s intelligence scale in 1909 gave rise to standardized intelligence testing, colloquially known as IQ testing.’ 2Armed with this so-called objective methodology, 3 American eugenicists advanced a straw-man rationale for large-scale testing 14They reasoned that society needed to identify, segregate, and sterilize the “feeble-minded,”‘ 5 initially defined as those with mental disabilities’ 6 but later extended to include any “unfit” person of low intelligence, character, or ethnicity.17 In both Germany and the United States, persecution of the “feebleminded”‘ 18 hastened a broader eugenic campaign against immigration, miscegenation, and other professed threats to Nordic ascendancy.1 9
Not only are the tests racist, but they are classist as well. They usually choose topics and experiences not known or not relevant to the daily life of someone in poverty. Those with the means get test tutors and enrichment experiences, as demonstrated by the blog entry below:
Children who grow up in communities of poverty are exposed to different experiences than their wealthier peers. As an example, I like to take my children to the zoo on the weekends. From these trips to the zoo, they’ve learned about a variety of different animal species, seen animals up close, and been exposed to terms like “endangered species” and “extinction”. My kids’ peers from lower socioeconomic homes have not been to the zoo because it costs a family of four over $60 to visit. So when their class is learning about animal species or asked to talk about endangered species, my kids will have an advantage simply because of their experiences in life, which are a direct result of our socioeconomic status.
This is why family income is closely tied with student scores on the SAT exam. Data directly from the College Board – the organization behind the SAT – shows that students from families making less than $20,000/year averaged a combined score of 1,326 compared to 1,714 points for students from families making more than $200,000/year. Some of this can be explained by wealthier families’ access to test prep and tutoring. But certainly much of it can also be explained by looking at what the test evaluates in the first place. Much like the test on agriculture that I completely failed, are our standardized tests asking questions that reflect experiences that students have simply not been exposed to?
The amount of money that a family has does not determine a child’s ability to learn. The difference in test scores is telling us something else. The amount of money that a family has does determine how well a child will perform on a test. So what does that tell us about the test? This is another layer of the complexity of poverty. And it is something we can address. We can take a look at what our tests evaluate and determine if they’re biased against groups of students, particularly those who live in poverty.
So standardized tests are the perfect measure of how many minorities and poor people are found in your school. That’s information that is already known via the United States Census or other demographic surveys. There’s no need to test and punish schools for what they already know — that poverty is the #1 outside influence on how a child will perform in school.
Hunger Games Testing Week, and may the odds be ever in your favor.