Tennessee’s public school teachers and parents are increasingly aware of how excessive standardized testing has become in our state. Children spend hours upon hours taking standardized tests every year. The high-stakes standardized testing racket in Tennessee deprives students of learning time, shifts teachers’ focus from teaching to testing, and wastes huge sums of money.
In Tennessee, schools lose as much as eight weeks of valuable instructional time each year to standardized testing. Many of the tests are developmentally inappropriate. Consider:
- Children as young as kindergarten have been subjected to state “bubble” testing (at an age when experts say they are developmentally unable to properly fill in the bubbles on the tests).
- Tennessee third graders have spent more time taking standardized tests than post-graduate students spend taking the LSAT to get into law school or the MCAT to get into medical school.
- Children in grades two through five, and sometimes even younger, are expected to sit still for 2-3 consecutive hours to complete standardized tests.
- Third graders have been expected to type multi-paragraph responses to essay questions (like high school or college students) and to perform sophisticated manipulations on the computer screen in order to complete the tests.
So much focus has been placed on standardized testing in Tennessee that teachers have been supplied with vomit bags in case children throw up during testing due to nervousness. And if a child vomits during a test, the teacher can collect the vomit bag and allow the child to complete the test. It’s no wonder children start dreading third grade tests in kindergarten.
Does this all sound crazy to you? Does this strike you as inappropriate for children? Do some of these practices seem abusive toward young children? If so, you’re right.
So why do we have all these tests in our state? Pro-testing advocates claim it’s about “accountability.” In other words, we need standardized testing to tell us how well our children and teachers are performing. But consider:
- The results of TN standardized tests are not available until the following year, after students have moved along to the next teacher and grade level – and sometimes the next school!
- Only the testing companies, which have an interest in profit, know what is included on the tests. The tests are proprietary, and we have no idea whether the tests are appropriate or even accurate assessments. Test questions and responses are not available for review by teachers, parents, or students.
- One testing company with which the Tennessee Department of Education contracted was even caught hiring unqualified readers off of Craigslist for approximately $11 per hour to score students’ writing assessments.
- State testing has failed year after year in Tennessee, leading many to question how any of the results could be considered accurate.
- Furthermore, the cut scores for standardized tests, used to rank a child’s proficiency level, can be changed after the tests are given.
Standardized tests simply do not help parents understand where their children are academically, and the tests do not drive classroom instruction.
A Weapon against Our Schools
Standardized tests have also been used to unfairly evaluate Tennessee’s teachers. Research tells us that teacher evaluations should not be based on standardized testing, because test scores are primarily influenced by out-of-school factors. Only around 10% of variance in test scores is due to teachers. Additionally, about 70% of Tennessee teachers are evaluated using test scores of children they have never taught!
Here are a few more research-based reasons why your children shouldn’t participate in standardized testing:
- Multiple-choice tests and short-answer tests are poor, unfair measures of student achievement, particularly of the ability to understand and use complex material, or of creativity in any field.
- Test scores are not reliable. A person’s score may vary from day to day due to testing conditions or the test-taker’s mental or emotional state.
- High stakes tests narrow the curriculum to just what is on the test, and educational quality suffers as subjects like art, music, and physical education are reduced or eliminated. When the stakes are so high, teachers must teach to the test.
- Tests do not reflect current knowledge and research that we have about learning. Tests are based on outdated assumptions that do not match the research we have about how students learn.
- Students of color, second-language learners, and students with disabilities have been disproportionately negatively impacted by the high stakes testing culture which has fueled the school-to-prison pipeline, making it more likely that these students will become incarcerated.
- There are established and researched ways to evaluate achievement and ability that are MUCH BETTER, such as teacher observation and documentation of student work and performance over time by classroom teachers.
Follow the Money
There are piles of evidence that show high-stakes testing does nothing to improve student achievement and that it creates an unhealthy environment for students and teachers alike. Why, then, does Tennessee keep administering so many tests? Follow the money.
Testing companies reap hundreds of millions of dollars every year from our children. Countless lobbyists and organizations devote their time and resources to push for more testing at the Tennessee legislature. Not only is the corporate testing movement extremely profitable, but standardized testing is ultimately used to show that Tennessee schools are “failing” in order to pave the path for school privatization (vouchers, charter schools, selling curriculum, selling test prep, etc.), which is a boon for private investors.
In fact, standardized test results have been used to justify the state taking over nearly 30 neighborhood schools and turning them into charter schools through the state-run Achievement School District. This hasn’t improved student performance at all, but it has reaped immense financial rewards for investors.
It’s all a money game with our children used as pawns.
All the time spent testing in Tennessee could be used to provide children with more instructional hours and a full, rich curriculum. Instead, testing has decreased time for recess and physical education in schools across the state and it has narrowed the school curriculum, as more time is devoted to teaching to high-stakes tests.
Instead of wasting our tax dollars on useless standardized tests, we could use the money to hire a school nurse and counselor in every school. We could use the money spent on testing companies to fully stock classrooms. We could use the money to ensure that every child has the wrap-around services and support he or she needs to succeed.