Three sessions down, three more to go…we’re half-way there! As a grade 6 teacher in Ontario, I and thousands of my colleagues, are just trying to make it through the dreaded standardized testing period. We’re sweating in thirty-degree classrooms, gnawing on fingernails as we “wonder” what our students are writing, and popping Tylenol in the effort to relieve the stress headaches as we worry about our students.
Everyday, teachers all over the world work hard to design and deliver signature learning opportunities (this is a new buzz word in my school board, TVDSB) to students. We go deep into learning our grade’s curriculum, we research and network with other teachers trying to find new and engaging ways to deliver the curriculum. Then, we juggle every way possible to support our students as they try to learn a few thousand curriculum expectations. So, it becomes very difficult for teachers to sit and watch our students get thrown into such a foreign learning environment, as they write these standardized tests.
In Ontario, students write the EQAO standardized tests. Our testing is done in grades three, six, nine (Math), and ten (Literacy). Students sit down to write SIX sessions of testing. Some schools will take three days, completing two sessions per day, with each session taking 60, to 90, to 100+ minutes (depending on the student). Other schools will simply stretch out the six sessions over six days.
Well, the fact of the matter is, it is very difficult for our students to show their true learning and knowledge when the context for their learning is so severely compromised. You see, all great teachers would agree, students learn best when teachers differentiate:
- our instruction,
- our learning environment, and
- our assessment strategies
When teaching to such a variety of learning styles, teachers work to design ways in which our students can demonstrate their learning to us, in a way that works for them. Quite honestly, today’s classroom is best-managed when there is vibrant discussion, collaborative learning, technology on board, and student choice in how they present their learning. In addition to that, teachers customize their instruction by teaching to small groups, or working one-on-one. Conference conversations are tailored by the teacher, to suit the needs of their students. In my classroom, we all walk away from a conference a little smarter, more confident, and more ready to be successful. This is teaching and learning at its finest, right?
As teachers, when we assess and evaluate our students in everyday practice, we encourage students to:
- talk to their peers before writing or testing,
- ask for clarification when they don’t understand,
- look to the anchor charts on the walls to remind themselves of what is “good”, and
- be mindful of our learning goals and success criteria
This is all in the name of student achievement! Well, that is all very well and good. But, then along comes standardized testing, which throws all of these carefully crafted instructional choices under the BUS!
The reason I am venting over this standardized testing model, is simply because the assessment style is polar OPPOSITE to how all teacher inservice asks teachers to deliver their instruction and assessment. So, what ends up happening to our students, is they are put into this completely foreign, alien-like classroom environment and given this one-size-fits-all string of assessment tasks. Students find the experience “abnormal”. They don’t know what to make of it, how to tackle it, or how to succeed in standardized testing conditions. Students feel so awkward (despite test preparations) that even if a they have all the knowledge and skills necessary for the assessment tasks, the environment and assessment style renders some of them, “knowledge-less”.
You see, humans often anchor their learning in context. Our learning is often tied to the exact context in which content was delivered. So, here is where standardized testing messes with the theory of, learning in context. In most classes today’s he context is this: students sit in table groups, brainstorming and sharing their thoughts through lessons and tasks, presenting information to their peers, using anchor charts from the explicit teaching, and checking-in with the teacher for clarification. NONE of this resembles the context during standardized testing. During standardized testing, students are expected to sit alone and in silence, only permitted to ask to have a question read verbatim (not clarified, or reworded), and to compose writing assignments and reading responses without talking about ideas first. Math is done 100% alone without sharing the wide range of tactics for which their peers may have tackled the same problem.
Creating this ALTERNATE context also messes with the student’s level of confidence and willingness to take risks. For example, being afraid of “being wrong” is not a feeling students in my class enjoy. Taking risks in unfamiliar territory has taken me a very long time to combat. So, the moment the desks are rearranged for standardized testing…many students lose their confidence, their willingness to take risks, and therefore… knowledge.
Yes, yes, yes. Teachers do a tremendous amount to prepare students for THE TEST. This post is not about getting into my philosophy of test preparation tactics. I also don’t feel the need to talk about the validity of standardized testing. I am not saying standardized testing should not be carried out. Nor am I saying the teaching and learning in school districts should never be assessed. I’m just trying to say that STANDARDIZED TESTING IN SCHOOLS IS ROUGH STUFF. It is hard on the students, the parents, the teachers, the administrators, the staff, and the district. Most importantly, standardized testing is rough on the NERVES. Thank goodness I am three school days away from being finished for yet another year.
What are your thoughts on standardized testing?
- How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities? (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Are Teachers Prepared To Learn From Standardized Tests? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Vocal opponent of EQAO tests bound for Windsor (windsorstar.com)