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.