When ever the end of March and the beginning of April approaches there is more irritants in the air than just pollen. Yes, this is the time of year that many of us educators have come to affectionately label ‘Testing Season’.
In the state of Georgia, and really around the country, the end of March triggers the beginning of a two (plus) month process of testing students in every way imaginable. For high school, it begins with the high school graduation test, which is being phased out with a new focus on passing End of Course Tests (EOCT) now. Specifically in Gwinnett County, we then test all our Sophomores in the Gateway examination. This test asks students to write essays on two separate days covering science and then social studies; we then proceed to performance finals, then AP exams, and last but not least those EOCTs. (At the middle and elementary levels they have to contend with the CRCTs.) Yes, there is no denying it is truly testing season for one and all.
This is a new battleground not just for students, but increasingly so for teachers as well since many of us will soon be judged heavily on our students scores. What worries me most is the quality of tests being produced at all levels. I’m not alone in wagging my finger at my own county for producing sub-par interim exams. How do I know they are sub-par? It is quite revealing when the average across the board for students in any particular school and subject is below a passing rate, which has certainly been the case. What makes these interims more frightening is the same student who couldn’t pass the county’s examination will then knock the EOCT out of the park at the end of the year. No matter what angle you choose, the EOCT is too easy or the county’s interim is unmanagable, there is evidence of issues within the tests themselves. I think that is what is most troubling in our current times when teachers are scapegoats and legislation is in the business of quick fixes–we never seem to question the test makers, or the insane amount of money the testing industry garnishes every year. (We’re talking about billions of dollars, here.) There is little incentive to produce more quality and relevant tests when the rich appear to be quite happy with the status quo. Legislators are lobbied by testing groups and companies all the time with financial incentives to keep them all well fed. It is a deplorable turn of events because we’ve all bought into the belief that we’ve fallen behind the rest of the world educationally. No, what we’ve done is buy into the ponzi scheme of standardized testing. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan.
The truth is many countries don’t try to educate everyone. At least, not everyone all the way past secondary education. Many countries have students take a test by the time they are twelve years of age and their success, or lack there of, determines the academic future. Some go to trade schools while others are put on the fast track to college and university. Here, we have always pushed education for all, and rightfully so, but we are kidding ourselves to believe we’ll ever get more than half our country into universities, keep them there, and have them graduate summa cum laude. It just isn’t realistic. Another issue with us buying into our testing frenzy is what it has done to students around the world. There are laws in South Korea now that ban students from meeting for study groups past a certain time in hopes of staving off sleep deprivation, psychosis, and suicide attempts. I will always contend our solution is not test as well as the rest of the world (whom in many cases do not test every student), but is to instead innovate. Get creative minds working toward new solutions and seeing things differently. In other words, take the lead in education instead of pretending to play catch up with everyone else.
So as testing season begins, I wish to remind all who are willing to read my rant that there is so much more to success than numbers on a test or averages and bell curves. The change we need in our schools starts with demanding those test generators to be accountable for the product they make in conjunction with the money they profit, to develop more rigorous teaching programs at universities so only the most dedicated and most skilled choose to enter the field, and to start believing student are more than a number or an average or unit of study.
The time for innovation and accountability for not just teachers but everyone has long since passed. We have important decisions to make as teachers, parents, and government officials.
How do we want to lead the world and change our passive aggressive education system?
I think it is high time we expunged ‘testing season’ from our vocabularies. Who’s with me?!