In August, the nightmares start.

Every teacher experiences the excitement, worry and sometimes dread as the first day of school approaches. It’s a combination of Christmas Eve and April 14.

Like most teachers, I spent my summer carefully crafting lesson plans. I spent weeks reading YA books and worked diligently on creating a week’s worth of team building activities to start the year with a positive classroom environment.

Then, at the second day of professional development (before the students even arrived), I was handed the eight-page district assessment calendar.

Within the first 13 days of school, I was expected to administer three different mandated assessments. So there went the classroom contract for behavior, there went the applications for class jobs, there went the classroom scavenger hunt. Instead of spending those first few weeks getting to know my students’ names, interests and personalities, I was forced to hand them test after test, slowly chipping away at the positive atmosphere I wanted so badly to cultivate.

This year, I have to subject my eighth-grade students to 6,600 minutes of district-mandated testing. That’s 110 hours. That’s more than 15 entire seven-hour school days.

That means sacrifices have to be made when it comes to what is taught in the classroom. Teachers have to make the hard decisions to stop reading a book mid-way to pause for district testing. Teachers have to make the choice to discourage extra questions from curious students in order to “cover the material” before mandated assessments. Teachers have to make these decisions to give up authentic learning opportunities, like guest speakers, lively classroom conversations or individualized projects because they are not standardly assessed.

Testing results are clear. Students are, in large numbers, experiencing test fatigue, anxiety, disengagement, detachment, and apathy towards school. Over the past few years, the number of students diagnosed with anxiety disorders are only exasperated by the constant testing. Written into students’ IEPs are accommodations to give students prior warning of testing — however, with the excessive testing calendar, students are on constant high alert with mandated assessments taking place nearly every three weeks, giving them no alleviation from their heightened anxiety.

Anxiety manifests itself in many forms in the classroom, ranging from sleeping, to pacing, to crying to panic attacks. And as teachers, one of our moral and professional responsibilities is to support our students in whichever way their anxiety appears. Yet, with constant testing, there are only so many “breaks from class,” cool-down stations and breathing exercises we can offer that actually help our students.

As a professional, I feel that it undervalues my expertise to be excluded from these decisions. I cannot imagine how disempowering it must feel for the students, the victims of a system that commits so much time to testing over learning.

Tiffany Moyer-Washington lives in Hartford.

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11 Comments

  1. When the USA eventually falls behind other countries such as China, India, etc., in academic achievement. Those in charge, will ask “How did this happen?”. If you lower the bar enough some one can step over without bending a knee, there is no motivation. Without challenge, there’s no motivation for improvement. The fastest way to lose a race, is to stay in neutral. We are racing towards neutral.

    1. I agree completely. Elementary and secondary schooling has become more a social service function than education. Parents who take zero responsibility in their child’s education expect the teacher, pastor, coach and others to fill this role. Hence more class time is spent on social issues than teaching and learning. And, therefore some teachers are against testing. But testing requires the student to provide a correct answer: 5+5=10. This is true in the US, Japan and around the world. We can grade for spelling, punctuation, etc. There is no escaping the correct answer. Either the students knows the answer or not.

      1. They have to be taught something in order to do well on the tests. They will also take those tests less seriously if they develop test fatigue. Moreover, problem solving is a higher order form of thinking than just memorizing facts and rules. I’m not against memorizing facts and learning rules of grammar and logic. That takes time to teach and needs to begin early. Are formal, frequent standardized assessments the best way to make sure students learn those rules? I’m not so sure.

      2. Exactly. Parents have abdicated their role in educating their kids and helping them to become socially adjusted contributing members of society.
        I wonder if Dr Spock still feels that his thoughts on child rearing are still valid and effective.

      3. Why I agree with these comments about abdicating responsibilities to the schools, I completely disagree that the answer is in testing. Do you think those families who can’t manage their own lives enough to be able to help their child are going to care one bit if their child fails the test? They are barely keeping their own selves afloat.

  2. I interpret the article to be opposed to all forms of testing and secondary school should be a time for personal development and less on learning. I am sympathetic that some students have anxiety issues, but standardized test and testing in general a reliable and objective measurement of achievement. The test allow for equal and equivalent content for all students. Plus, the standardized test counter balance secondary school grade inflation.

    The answer is not eliminating testing, but finding the right balance of testing and accommodations for students with anxiety issues.

  3. so in order to alleviate parents’ anxiety over college admissions, they transfer that anxiety to their kids. Great. Oh, and taxpayer activists’ “anxiety” [read: anger/ignorance] over teacher pay & seniority. The politicization of education would be laughable if it weren’t so counterproductive.

  4. Overuse of standardized testing is demoralizing. I took the Iowa Tests as a kid, and it seemed like a break from the routine, and something “competitive” that worked with grades to give an idea of academic achievement. But those tests were not frequent. I think it’s demoralizing too when education just becomes about workforce development, which is the message of the CSCU system office. I’m sure the children of the elite don’t get tested to death just to be told to be good, developed workers.

    We know that standardized testing is not unbiased. We also know it can be overdone. Surely there is a balance. Isn’t once every two years about right?

  5. As an elementary grade teacher, I can tell you that the pressure that is put on these kids to preform on these tests is harmful. We hold days and days of practice tests, have rallies and cheers, talk about what to eat that day and notify parents to be sure they get to bed on time. I’ve seen 10 year olds throw up and the anxiety on all their faces makes me furious. All of this is done, not to improve that child’s skills or knowledge. It’s not brought back to the individual child in a way that informs instruction. This is purely done for the adult’s craze to find a way to compare apples to oranges. The financial cost to taxpayers, and the complete demoralizing of teachers are just the secondary effects of such interference by politicians into something they think has an easy solution.

  6. Part of the reason for testing is the chance to find out where individual students need to improve. A lot of remedial effort is necessary, judging by the results. And that drilling does take time from other classroom activities.
    One response suggested is not testing. If the lack of basic knowledge isn’t identified, it doesn’t have to be overcome. That makes time for more entertaining and enriching activities. And assures that students graduate without the minimum knowledge they could have used in the future.
    The better answer is to do what’s necessary to assist each individual student. Including help with problems external to the school which lessen the impact of teaching. Just a suggestion.

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