The debate over testing is a distraction from the real work that faces our Legislature.
THE outcry about tying test scores to teacher evaluations in Washington state is a genuine grass-roots rebellion by people who see firsthand the impacts that high-stakes standardized tests are having on students, teachers and education.
In recent weeks, nearly 3,000 educators rallied in communities across the state to tell the Legislature to get off the testing issue and concentrate on its real job: funding education. More than 300 teachers attended a hearing Monday on ESSB 5748 by the House Education Committee in Olympia to protest tying their evaluations to standardized tests. Parents and teachers, from Garfield and Nathan Hale high schools in Seattle and Redmond Middle School in the Lake Washington School District, are saying enough is enough. Privately, parents are opting their kids out from taking the tests.
This controversy has been building for years. Why? There are too many tests. They take too much time, and don’t provide timely or useful feedback. They come with high-stakes consequences for students and teachers and take time away from actual learning. Research shows they are useless for measuring teacher effectiveness.
The number of required standardized tests is growing at the federal, state and district levels. The names are an alphabet soup of their own: HSPE, MSP and MAP, for starters.
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The SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment) is the latest exam, tied to the Common Core standards. It is required in grades 3 through 8, and 11th grade. The federal government requires that 100 percent of students pass the test, but predicts that 60 to 70 percent will fail it. What kind of message does that send to our students? What kind of a tool is that for measuring a teacher’s abilities?
Administering the tests dominates school calendars from March to June, in many cases, locking kids out of libraries or computer labs for the duration. Instead of being a place of wonder and learning, the library becomes a stressful place for test administration. Adding complication, elementary schools as dispersed as Richland and Mukilteo are reporting that third-graders were sent the wrong test, with some kids having to take it twice.
The tests and their preparation stifle and overwhelm kids. Students are taking practice tests to learn testing software, not to demonstrate that they know the subject matter. I recently heard about a third-grader in Tri Cities, who, after spending so much time prepping for the SBA, simply asked her teacher when they could read again.
These tests have high-stakes consequences for students. In younger grades, districts use them to determine placements in programs like Advanced Placement classes, determining kids’ educational path very early in their academic careers. In high school, students must pass them or risk graduation.
Teachers don’t like having test scores tied to their evaluations because there are so many factors that influence a child’s learning. Reducing performance to the results of a single test score undervalues the total contributions a teacher makes toward her or his student’s learning. And research consistently shows that these tests are useless as tools for measuring teacher performance.
The debate over this issue is a distraction from the real work that faces our Legislature, which is funding education and reducing class sizes for the million school-aged children in our state.