I often wonder if I would have loved reading and history and science so much when I was a kid if I had been repeatedly taught to memorize key curriculum phrases because they would be on the test! It seems like all of our teaching these days isn't aimed at creating lifelong learners and innovators, but on getting as many students as possible to pass the standardized tests so our school retains accreditation. School systems talk the good talk about encouraging innovation and teaching work and career skills for the 21st century, but when it comes right down to the observation, you better be on the right page on the right day speaking the party line to get kids ready for the test. And we wonder why our students aren't great writers, thinkers, and innovators. They never get the chance. They are too busy practicing multiple choice test taking skills and memorizing essential phrases. Field trips are too expensive, Long term writing projects take too much time, and there is no time to read longer works of great literature because kids don't have the attention span. Maybe they would if it was part of what they do from the early years of school. We have dumbed down to meet the lowest common denominator and despite the cries for more rigorous standards, we only meet in small group with the lowest kids because they are the ones that will pull our scores down if we don't get them up to speed. Where's the joy?
External testing can be really stressful for students and this is particularly distressing to witness in young students. When testing at ages 13 in the UK was introduced I had students diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety as a result of these tests. This was at a top performing school where students were well prepared. The pressure came from many sides: parents wanting good results; teachers meeting performance targets; schools fretting about league tables and the young person fearing the responses of peers. Not really a great way to cultivate a love of Shakespeare or a balanced view of the purpose of education.
I believe testing is important when it has the correct ethics - i.e. the benefit of the student -are behind it. Unfortunately a child taking a test today has the pressure of attaining results for too many sources.
I think testing can only kill the joy of learning and teaching if we,as educators, allow it to. I'm a twenty-two year vetern of the language arts classroom and have seen many fads, buzz-words, mandates, etc come and go. I can't say that I'm opposed to state-mandated testing, but I do have some issues with the manner in which we have to conduct the testing. However, that being said, I spend a great deal of time balancing those "cool lesson ideas" with state core curriculum standards. You truly can do creative, engaging lessons that prepare the students for state-mandated tests. The trick is all in the preparation; my eighth-grade students never even know we are preparing for the test as I choose not to cram it down their throats every minute of the day. But when we actually get down to doing test-prep lessons, my students are always pleasantly surprised to learn they have been preparing for this all year. (Kind of like sneaking veggies in the spaghetti sauce :) )
Even when doing test prep, you have to search out ideas to make things more interesting. For example, a culminating activity for my persuasive essay unit is to have students work in small groups (introduction, body paragraphs, transitions, supporting detail, etc)...and rewrite children's songs with appropriate information. They then teach the songs to the rest of the class. Every year during our state testing, I always hear a few kids singing to themselves!
Remember, you set the tone for the classroom!
I'm not sure, but I know it's killing the joy of teaching! You have no idea how many cool lesson ideas I've put on the back burner just because they don't align with New York state standards, which are in turn reflected on the ELA exams. I'm still fairly young in this field, and am therefore a bit afraid of these state mandated exams. While I wouldn't say they dictate what I do and do not teach, I am definitely always thinking about them as I'm planning. I do believe that an effective teacher will get his or her job done regardless of state assessments; however, I think they bring an unnecessary amount of superfluous stress into the classroom, when there's enough there to begin with.
I was just arguing this the other day. Testing gives the students the impression that here is one right answer, and the goal is to know and regurgitate that one right answer. The purpose for education, in other words, is to ace the tests.
This makes it difficult for students and teachers to be creative, to spend extra time on the things students enjoy, or to let units and activities play out to their normal educational conclusions. Students are losing the ability to analyze and think more for themselves, as they see less point in doing so.
In Washington State, where I have taught for 17 years, the state standards test, the WASL, takes students out of class for nearly two weeks a year, the kids hate it with a passion, and when it's over (in March) students see less reason to try the rest of the year.
We are just seeing the first groups of students come through the high school who have taken all three WASL tests at the 4th, 7th and 10th grades. I see a noticeable difference in these kids as students.
Reading all of these posts makes me very glad to be at a private, independent school. While we are encouraged to align our lessons and standards with our local district curriculum map, we don't have issues like state standardized tests to worry with, and as a result, both teachers and students feel free to engage each other using the knowledge provided in exciting, relevant classes.
What's more, when test time does roll around (our kids take the ACT in their junior or senior year), they usually perform well, not because they've been schooled in "how to take a test," but about the actual content facing them instead. More than 95 percent of our school's kids go on to college or a technical school, and our population is supposedly comprised of learning disabled children. Makes you wonder...how much damage are these tests really doing?
I think students today have been tested so much that they just take it for granted. We think it's excessive because we weren't subjected to so many tests. I started first grade in 1966. I can remember having to take an achievement test every year until 6th grade. Then nothing. No more standardized tests until the ACT. We didn't even have exams in junior high. And when I got to high school, we could be exempt from exams based on attendance and GPA. So I never took an exam until my first semester of college--and I wasn't ready. Today's students just see testing as just another part of the lesson plan.
I completely agree with Posts 8 and 9--If teachers are teaching with a love for learning themselves and trying to inspire the same in their students, then they should not have to alter their basic teaching methods to accommodate standardized tests.
That being said, I do believe that we are doing too much testing--at least in my state, and that by devoting so much school time to testing, students can become even more disillusioned with being in school than they already are. In my state, we have MAP testing which does not affect student grades, teachers' jobs, graduation, etc.; it is supposed to judge throughout the year--several times a year--what kind of improvement a student has made. This testing takes up quite a bit of time, ties up our computer resources at the school for over 4 weeks during the school year, and has resulted in no overall improvements in student performance or motivation. In addition to taking these tests, students in grades 9-11 take end of course tests and an exit exam (in the tenth grade)--this is not counting AP exams, SATs, ACTs, or other tests that they might choose to take.
While I don't think the tests themselves take away students' love for learning, I do think that at least on the subconscious level they can cause students to associate all formal education with standardized testing.
I wonder if testing has killed students passion for learning or has it killed teachers passion for teaching. I think most students continue to have a passion for learning, those that don't still have the passion have lost it for reasons other that standardized testing. What I have observed is teachers are losing their desire to teach with the same passion as once before. They are so bogged down by testing and curriculum alignment that actual teaching has become secondary.
High-stakes standardized testing shouldn't have much of an impact on any classroom curriculum, other than to ensure that it is aligned to the state frameworks; where the impact ought to be apparent is in how students are assessed formally in their classrooms.
I know what I'm talking about. I was a classroom teacher in Massachusetts when MCAS was first imposed. I refused to change the way I taught or my reading selections in my English classes. What I did change was the way I tested my students. I designed my classroom tests to resemble MCAS test questions. I made sure that what I did select for teaching in my classroom matched the state's curriculum frameworks, which include what any accomplished English teacher ought to already be teaching. (By the way, my kids were heterogeneously grouped urban students, 50 languages spoken in our district, 16% special needs.)
The first year of MCAS, we tied the Harvard public school district for the highest 8th grade English scores.
I sometimes wonder if the movement away from local control toward more national control is responsible for some of our current difficulties. National control of standards and assessment in a small country like Japan with a largely homogeneous population seems plausible, but the further away we get from local control, the less likely people are to know and care about the students, to understand their needs, and to devise tailored curricula, standards, and assessments. I never thought I would find myself arguing for states' rights over federal rights, and I do understand there is a downside to local control. But there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any federal idea has worked or is going to work and the more removed the people who devise "solutions," the less likely they are to be successful. Has anyone here ever read Tested, by Linda Perlstein? It is one of the most appalling books I have ever read, about an elementary school that eats, sleeps, and breathes test preparation, a direct consequence of federal policy.
Testing is a necessary evil of the system that we are in, unfortunately. Whenever I get together with my fellow teachers, about half of the time is spent griping and groaning about the tests, and how much time is spent on them, and how inadequate they are. However, unless we change the entire system, which is based on the distribution of money determined by test scores, then it's hard to think of a different solution.
If we must have tests, it would be nice to see them ask more relevant questions that actually assess real knowledge and skills. I teach English, and most of the time they don't even have a writing portion on the tests, because they can't find volunteers willing to grade them. And writing is a huge portion of our curriculum. Instead, they have to ask multiple choice questions that try to assess their writing knowledge--it's pretty worthless. After the written tests go through all of the committees, red tape, regulations, and guidelines, the tests that we get in the classrooms are often not a very good measure of true student understanding. It's a difficult situation, that's for sure, but until the entire system changes, we're stuck with the tests.
In general, I sympathize with the sentiments, but I have one niggling question in my mind. If what we were doing before was so great, how come so many of our students were doing so badly? Maybe the testing craze isn't any good either, but I taught a lot of kids who made it to HS (and later community college) before the craze. Plenty of them weren't lifelong learners, weren't innovators, and lacked a lot of basic knowledge as well.
Where was the joy in that? We need a third way.
Sometimes I just don't get it when people argue that tests/quizzes/exams kill a student's joy for learning because my friends and I are very competitive with ourselves when it comes to seeing how much information we learned and retained. When we see a score we don't like, obviously we study harder, and this results in a much desired test score. We like learning and gaining knowledge everyday is a very precious thing for us.
I think teaching today revolves around testing. Yes, we can have fun to a point but we do have to remember the testing. At this time of the year, our school district has just started the test prepping. The kids miss out one day a week on Social Studies or Science and we prep them from these books that claim to help the children do better on the tests.
I use to have so much fun in the classroom during the learning process. I feel like it is gone to a point. Testing is never going to go away. It is hear to stay. It is a money making process. Look at the folks who make the test...in this state, they are not teachers! What is wrong with that?
Personally, I am not a fan of standardized testing. While I understand the importance of it, I do not agree with the stress that is placed on students to perform well on these tests. If a student performs poorly on a standardized test, it is not necessarily a reflection of their knowledge/comprehension of the curriculum. When I was a student in high school, I never performed as well as thought I should have on state exams. In the classroom, however, I excelled and graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. What students learn in the classroom and the experiences gained in the learning process itself are much more valuable than high test scores.