Since the beginning of January, the testing craze has begun. My students have now endured the District Based Assessment—two days, the WIDA ACCESS (a four-day interruption to test their English language skills), the NAEP, which is a national one day random smattering of students in each school where we don’t receive much, if any, feedback. Also, there’s the three-day Spanish LAS LINKS to finish because they started in December but ran out of time. Finally there’s the NMSBA that lasts four days. It is possible that in 10 weeks of school, a dual-language student could spend thirteen days in high-stakes testing—that’s almost three weeks of instruction days.
Teachers will also spend another ten days or so preparing the students for all of those tests. I know I reviewed for a couple days before every test so far. If my math’s correct, students will be reviewing or taking tests for about 25 days in 40 days of instruction.
This is besides the weekly-ish short-cycle assessments we’re supposed to chart for our data folders and have posted in our classrooms, and other classroom unit exams and quizzes (formative and summative assessments for all of you education types out there) that come up when checking student progress. Someone at our school made the analogy that all this testing is like going to the gym and weighing yourself after every activity you complete. Run 15 minutes: check your weight. Bicep curls: check weight. Bench press: check weight.
With Common Core Standards rolling out next year, our district exams (3 times a year for 2-3 days each test cycle) will be even more high stakes than before. Plus, I recently read that the Common Core has two different assessment windows—one after 75% of instruction has taken place and another after 90% of instruction has been completed. There’s a lot to like about the Common Core, but there are also some things to worry about, too.
The elementary schools in the area have already started the Common Core Standards this past year. I’ve heard through that prickly grapevine that some area Kindergarten teachers have been in tears because their students must read sight words by the end of the year. For some students, this may already be happening, but there are plenty of students who enter Kindergarten not recognizing the letters in the alphabet—let alone speaking English. Also, I’ve heard that in some elementary schools, they’ve been cutting out the second recess in exchange for test prep. In a meeting a couple weeks ago with some district representatives, we discussed the usefulness (or lack thereof) surrounding all these tests in schools today, and one man said, “This is why I send my kids to Montessori.”
When I think of the boys starting school in a couple years at a place that won’t have two recesses for their extremely energetic selves, and that their teacher will be judged, not by how he/she teaches or what kind of relationship he/she has with the students or how well he/she can address all the different needs in the room, but how the students test, I want to scream. I feel like we’ve slipped into a madness that acts like quicksand, and we can’t get ourselves out.
Is all this testing worth it? And to whom?