April is mandatory testing time in Oklahoma and it’s become an issue that’s stirred up a lot of emotion as districts move ever-closer to that time.
For teachers and administrators, high-stakes testing is a big deal. Districts and teachers are judged based on students’ test scores; this time of year has become so focused on these assessments it’s become known as “testing season.”
While I feel for school district employees and sympathize with an area that is as depressed in teacher pay and benefits as is Oklahoma, it are the students who most concern me in this scenario. With Oklahoma coming up 48 out of 50 states in term of educational quality, what does that mean for someone like my son and his future?
That concern appears to be well-founded. From all accounts, high-stakes testing, like that used in Oklahoma, does not work. Instead of providing a diagnostic tool that gives educators an idea what a student’s possible educational gaps might be or a head’s up about students who might need extra time and attention, it instead is a system that piles on pressure, while appearing to lend no educational value at all. Teachers are pushed to “teach to the test,” and students are encouraged to – at least in their minds (and I’ve spoken to several of them about this) – memorize rote facts and figures in order to do well.
After all, there’s a lot riding on the outcome. Districts are graded down when their students do poorly; teacher assessments are highly dependent on test scores. There is no provision for taking into account special needs students (who must take the same test as their peers), there’s no allowance that a particular child just might not test well and all of the pressure, stress and upset can be for naught – there have been numerous instances in the last few years of technical issues invalidating tests. In our own personal experience, a recent test covered many topics our son’s class never covered – he did well (in fact, extremely well), but only because we as a family had been discussing some historical issues recently at home and those were on the exam.
Should testing be completely thrown out? Of course not. But, it’s ludicrous to believe that one single test should be so instrumental in the assessment of students, teachers and districts alike. How can this process be seen to encourage a love of learning – something that these kids could draw on for the rest of their lives?
There is so much of the educational process that is important. Think of all of the classes you’ve taken, the extracurricular activities you’ve been involved with and how they changed your life. I look at band, in the case of my son, and how that has helped guide what he wants to do in life, something he is dedicated to and loves at 17 years of age. That is pretty significant, and it has nothing to do with testing.
As parents, as citizens, we need to start speaking out about this painful, dangerous process. Our kids deserve to get an education that’s better than “48 out of 50.” Oklahoma politicians – not our students, not their teachers – are the ones who have failed the test. They need to improve, and quickly.