Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is now chair of the education committee in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension committee, and has officially opened the door to reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB, also known as the ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). He’s seeking emails and letters talking about testing and accountability to supplement the hearing held on January 21, 2015, on this subject; you can email him directly at FixingNCLB@help.senate.gov. Previously President Obama had called for reauthorization of the law since his inauguration in his first term. Reauthorization of the law is badly overdue.
With both the Left and the Right upset about the overtesting of children in the nation’s public schools, various individuals and teacher groups have decided to launch a letter-writing campaign to let the Senator know how much time, energy, and money is wasted in the useless and punitive standardized testing of students K-12.
This guest post is by a seasoned middle school math teacher in Southern California, Tina Andres. It’s reposted with her permission.
Dear Senator Alexander,
I have been teaching for 27 years in an urban, low income public school district. I have witnessed numerous changes to public education for my students throughout my career. I can think of no change more damaging the insidious increase in the amount of time spent on standardized tests over the past ten years or so. Standardized test scores have been used as an excuse to eliminate Social Studies, Science, Music, Visual and Performing Arts as well as second languages.
While those who advocate for one high stakes test per year for all students in the U.S. think that it is not unreasonable, I am afraid that they are woefully unaware of the consequences of the stakes that have been placed on these tests. When children, teachers, administrators and school districts live in fear, based on one number they receive each year, education suffers, mostly, students suffer. I have looked into the eyes of my students and seen the dread. They dread coming to school because someone decided that they are a failure and their school is a failure and consequently, they cannot have recess, they have lost an elective and now they must spend the majority of their school day in language arts and math classes.
Every year I volunteer to teach a class for students who are up to five years below grade level in math. I take on those classes because I love those kids and strive to find ways to put the joy back into learning math for them. You may wonder how they became so far below grade level. I would say that it can be directly attributed to standardized tests and the stubborn insistence of those who make educational policies that if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, somehow these kids will magically catch up. You see, their teachers were told that no matter what level they currently work at in math, they must be exposed to grade level standards because this will prepare for them for the standardized test at the end of the year. Consequently, these children froze academically early in elementary school and have basically learned little to nothing since that time. I attempt to meet these students where they are and bring them from where they are to a place where they enjoy math and begin to build the confidence that has been destroyed by a testing regime that truly cares nothing for real children. I consider myself lucky to be able to teach these classes. I do need to say that if I were in one of the many states that insists on making these test scores a part of a teacher’s evaluation, I would have to reconsider out of fear for my own livelihood. That would be very sad for these kids who are finally enjoying school again. These students make 1 ½-2 years progress in my class on average, however, this never translates to a test that truly only tests grade level standards.
Last year my district took the pilot test for the Smarter Balanced Test (Common Core testing). The students in this class stared at the screen, some cried, some just clicked and one particular child completely melted down into a ball of tears on the floor, refusing to continue. These kids are not dumb, they are very smart in protecting themselves from something that tears down their confidence, something I work all year to build. They look at me in a way that asks why I am doing this to them. We work so hard to give them confidence and it can be destroyed in one day.
You may think that a test that takes less than a week should be manageable. The problem is that it is not just one test. What happens when one test comes with such high stakes is astounding. Testing breeds more testing. You see, because this test is so important, my district has now purchased at great expense more tests that are supposed to prepare the students for this test. They have pulled teachers out of the classroom to write even more tests that will prepare for this test. We are spending weeks of instruction taking tests to prepare for this test.
Our students have lost so much while adults play around with the false notion that one test score indicates the quality of education in a school. These adults have robbed these students of instructional time and a rich learning environment involving the arts and languages. It is time to put an end to this. I am a math teacher, I clearly understand that a statistical sample would be adequate to get a picture of the progress of our students on a test, testing every student every year is wasteful, unnecessary and counterproductive. The billions of dollars being spent on these tests, the technology to take them and the tests that prepare kids for more tests could easily be used providing a better education for all students. I am sure that I wouldn’t need to have 40 students in my math classes if we could use these billions on the students instead of handing our public school dollars to large corporations. Thank you for your time.
CA middle school math teacher