My topic ought to be “Reining in the tests” but who wants to read about more tests? I am afraid we are reaching a saturation point on this topic. Like the squabbles between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, many Americans reach for the remote now when testing comes to the forefront. Like death, taxes, politics and other forever-topics that somehow never seem to come out right, testing has become a quiet thrum in the background of daily life, one that sounds faintly unpleasant and spurs a desire for distraction.
The testing octopus has long, sticky tentacles wrapped around students and teachers, but our students and teachers have been trussed up in those tentacles for so long that the drama of their capture is now old news. Old news in America too often becomes non-news. We are outraged at the lead levels in Flint, Michigan right now. Will we be as outraged in a few years when the long-term effects of those lead levels begin to impact our schools? Americans today are barraged with bad news. We grapple with Flint, Iran, major storms, terrorist bombings, college costs, Ebola outbreaks, global warming, an erratic stock market and suspicious Chinese puppy treats, part of the nonstop feed from our phones and computers that dulls normal reactions to real problems. Humans are only build to sustain so much outrage for so long. Then we tend to look for the chocolate stash and check the DVR.
Nevertheless, I feel I must wade into this topic one more time. We need to cap total testing days. Total testing days now border on absurd. Government requirements vary from state to state, but any requirements that result in more than a week of standardized and benchmark testing should be adapted or repealed.
School demands for assessment have gone over-the-top as well. How much time are we using when administrators demand weekly quizzes to produce student-tracking data? My last year provided the perfect example. If I include the math unit tests written by a now-bankrupt, outside consulting firm — a firm that my school was required to hire as part of a government grant — and throw in the weekly math quizzes designed by the math department (with only minor input on my part) tailored to those unit tests, standardized and benchmark tests, the total percentage of time my students spent testing comes in around a staggering 20% in my poor, under-instructed math classes. I also had to give extra quizzes or assessments beyond those required each week since grades were based 100% on tests, quizzes and assessments. Those extra quizzes were designed to keep grades above failing levels, a necessity in classes where the average East-Coast-written unit test was pitched three or more years above almost all students documented, academic levels.
To those of you out there who are taking on the Testing Monster, please keep fighting. This has to stop. We must assess student progress, but I believe teachers should be pointing out the opportunity costs from testing time. Every assessment, necessary or not, represents one more missed teaching opportunity.