I have been hearing from many constituents with grave concerns about the current state-mandated assessments/tests for elementary and middle school students. The concerns boil down to two major items: the time required of teachers and counselors to prepare, oversee and recover from what is now a series of tests at the beginning of the school year, in the middle of the school year and at the end of the school year; and the financial cost of devoting so much professional time to testing and thereby stopping all curriculum-based instruction for weeks as well as the professional time needed to catch up to the required curriculum pacing through the academic year. The professional involvement in administering these tests, as well as tests required by local school boards layered on top of and in between the state tests is surprisingly intense. The security protocols alone require many hands to strip each testing classroom of ALL materials that might distract or inform children as they are taking these tests. This means that literally each bulletin board and each student desk must be completely cleared; and of course, restored after testing.
Teachers and counselors must administer the tests and monitor the testing procedure and the students while taking the tests. Naturally, testing must be secure — no cheating, no sharing, no talking — and we all want our children to be responsible and trustworthy while taking a test.
But the time and effort alone involved in this mandated security protocol is somewhat staggering and stressful.
Now let’s talk about the tests themselves. What is the purpose of such frequent testing?
The purpose is to measure student progress to inform the curriculum content and pacing for teachers and to give parents an evaluation of their student’s academic progress or lack thereof compared across a spectrum locally, statewide and nationally. Another purpose is to measure a school’s success in teaching the required grade-appropriate curriculum. We all know that the most important aspect of academic testing is the feedback harvested from the results and the ability to implement appropriate changes in response to that feedback.
What happens if the state Department of Education does not provide feedback swiftly, comprehensively and most importantly, feedback data that is understandable and actionable?
Understandable and actionable for teachers and parents. What happens if students are tested on items they have not received instruction on? What happens if those students feel like failures and if the parents of those students blame the teachers for shortcomings that have nothing to do with classroom instruction, but simply the order in which information is presented to students as the academic year unfolds? The current testing mechanism for measuring student learning progress is to test on the entire academic-year-long curriculum at the middle of the academic year. Logically, this means that students will not have heard or had the opportunity to learn this information.
We are now seeing what happens. Teachers burn out and leave the profession. Remember, these same teachers are working double-time to overcome the students’ learning gaps created by the Covid shutdowns. We already have a shortage of teachers in Virginia and should not be consciously exacerbating that shortage. Students easily lose confidence in their ability to learn and ability to take tests. Students’ anxiety level goes up. We already are experiencing what some call “a student mental health crisis” that schools are not equipped, as now staffed, to handle. I haven’t even gotten to the ‘what happens if’ for students who are special needs and/or English-language learners.
Finally, what happens when, not if, parents learn about the damage to their children’s self-confidence and willingness to learn? How many children are going to willingly take a test asking for answers that they not only don’t know, but haven’t been taught? How many parents are going to willingly allow their children to be placed into these circumstances?
I think the answer is: Not many.
Finally, if the testing result data does not come back to the school and teachers in a digestible, usable form that can help build a curriculum appropriate to the results to be followed for the rest of the year, what is the point? If the information provided to parents is only in English and only in check-box yes or no form, how does that help? How does that allow parents to be supportive, contributing partners to our schools?
Our appointed directors of our state Department of Education, our appointed Board of Education, our elected Legislature and our elected Governor must confront these concerns and implement corrective measures now. Our children are our future. Let’s build a future we can be proud of, starting now!