23 February 2016

The case for the elimination of high-stakes testing

Our legislature in Oklahoma is considering eliminating the EOI Tests. To be clear, this would not get rid of ALL tests, just the end-of-instruction exams (EOI). Currently, there is SO MUCH legislation, i.e. Big Government, that teachers are not allowed to be professionals. By that I mean the government is telling teachers (like me) that the 4 years of educator preparation we did in college, does not qualify us to assess whether or not our students have learned the standards adequately. What if I have a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction? Nope. “We still don’t trust you to judge whether or not your students learned what they should in your class.” Okay. How about a doctorate? Nope. We, as legislators (NOT EDUCATORS) feel as though our system will be a better judge of your students’ learning. High-stakes testing is simply another way for the government to dictate what I can and can’t do (as a teacher). It always makes me laugh when the very people who are against big government are the same ones who want to legislate students and teachers to death with unfunded mandates for any number of issues in education.

Additionally, these tests effectively cease all instruction in Oklahoma schools by the first week of April. So we are using the last 8 weeks of school just for testing. While this may sound absurd (it is) and incomprehensible, when you have half of your class pulled out for 3 days in a row to test on an EOI for one subject (remember there are 7 of these exams for each student) and then they need to use your computers to administer those tests during the next week, and then the other half of your class is pulled out the following week, you have lost 3 weeks of instruction and that only accounts for 2 tests out of 7. Fortunately, I was able to work around that because I taught a non-testable subject, but the strategies I employed to continue instruction would not work for everyone, so what ends up happening is no instruction.

If we are testing for about 8 weeks, out of 180 instructional days in the school year, we are taking 40 of them (5 days x 8 weeks) - which accounts for almost 25 PERCENT of all the instructional days we have - to administer high stakes tests.

In Oklahoma, the mandate is that students must pass 4 of the 7 EOI tests to get a diploma, meaning if they only pass 3 tests, instead of a diploma, those students get a certificate of completion. This dooms that student to a minimum wage job. To be able to live and pay your bills in Oklahoma City, you must make approximately $13.00/hr. So these students will be making about ½ of what they need to make to just to live minimally. Where is that other ½, needed to augment their earned wage, going to come from? It comes from government assistance, e.g. food stamps, welfare, etc. If our education system fails these students - students who may already be predisposed to failure in education because of the low socio-economic level they have grown up in - what then is the choice for them to make a living? Get that minimum wage job and take government assistance, thereby placing their children in the same cycle of poverty? It is possible that could be the only option they have.

We are better than this. As someone who trains teachers, I remind teachers (and myself) that teaching practice can ALWAYS be improved. If we don't improve our schools (and I'm saying that ONE way to do that is to eliminate high-stakes testing), we are condemning ourselves to a continuation of generational poverty - meaning we spend more and more of our taxes to augment the income of people who live below the poverty line.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, pass laws about teaching.” That’s pretty much sums up my feeling about my state’s leaders.