At Menlo Park Elementary in East Portland, a Title 1 school in a low income area where about 75% of students receive free lunch, testing is a fairly big deal. Our school has a “Teacher on Special Assignment” position just for the role of proctoring assessments. It is the job of this educator to run the Smarter Balanced tests and to over see the DAZE and DIBLES tests, which are the other tests used within my district to assess students.
For each of the 4 Smarter Balanced tests, two each for ELA and Math, the students were scheduled about 8 hours a week for four weeks, plus unlimited completion time. The DAZE tests are used twice a week in third grade and DIBBLES has weekly practice, a practice tests and two recorded tests a month. Occasionally, I think twice a year, students are tested by the special testing force to record official scores on DIBLES. The DAZE tests take up about 15 minuets a week. The DIBLES, maybe 30 min or more in a normal week and the Easy CBM, about 30min-1hr, twice a month. Not an incredible amount of time, but it is time that could be spent on other, more valuable practices.
Each week a new DIBLES fluency test is administered based on student competency. If a student is in Title 1, they only have a phonics book from which to practice. The other students have to read and re-read the DIBLES essays, earning stars with each completion. each equalling 5 points. At the end of the week, they get tested on the passage. The goal is to improve verbal fluency. If the reader scores better than the last time, meaning that they read faster, they get to add the difference to their table score. If they read slower, they subtract the difference. If they make no mistakes, they get to add 2o points. If they make more than three, they subtract 20 point. The whole thing is rather silly. I have seen some of the smartest kids read at a reasonable pace and get a low score. I have also seen some of the less bright kids plow through it. Reading fast is not a good indicator of learning, understanding or intelligence. They are being trained to and tested on reading fast. Apparently, it is making someone in the district feel competent by having something to report and show as a data point. The DAZE shows reading comprehension, and is likely a slightly more useful test. The Easy CMB also tests comprehension. From what I could tell though, student scores did not improve much over the year, even with the top kids.
Teachers in my school seem to teach to the test. I have heard them frequently say that there is no time for anything else. Recently, when I introduced the school garden as a learning tool at my school and set up an informative PD on how to use the garden, several reported to the principal that they would be excited to use it, if only there was time. While I support using standards to guide content, I do not support the influence that testing has on how a teacher feels he needs to spend his time in the classroom. In third grade, my mentor seemed to spend a fair amount of her day administering all of the different district mandated tests or test preps to the different groups. It was part of the ‘reading block’ that took place from 1:30-3pm when she did small group work . I feel that time could have been better used if spent on actually reading books out loud, as a group, discussing the ideas, building vocabulary, gaining perspective, making connections and learning to analyze a text. Research shows that group reading is time well spent and that there is a negative correlation between RTI and test scores1. The scores at my own school back up this observation2.
Teachers at my school who have students with high test scores are not given rewards or bonuses, but I have heard that is the case at other schools. However, the test scores are a part of a teacher’s overall review. Students are also not required to pass any test/s to move on to the next grade. Research has shown that students who are held back do worse in the long run3. Students move onto the next grade, but likely receive “supports” like RTI backed by billion dollar companies like Rupert Murdoch’s, Amplify.
At the high school level, movies like The Race to Nowhere indicate that High Stakes testing account for a rise in suicide rates, 75% of students cheating on tests, and a huge stress burden4. At the elementary level, in my lower income community, I don’t see much stress from increased test pressure on students. I don’t think the students view the tests as having much of an impact, especially not the Smarter Balanced test. Besides standardized tests being time consuming and boring, the students are likely more stressed by the Easy CBM. It is a more frequent and longer test that only the non-Title I students in my school take.
Public elementary schools in Seattle take the following tests: MSP- Reading, math and science, DRA- Fall, Winter and Spring, CBA- Health and Fitness (PE), CBA- Social Studies, Music- CPBA, Visual Arts CBA, SBAC, Beacon/Amplify. All in all, testing takes up to 48 hours out of the school year. Teachers do not receive bonuses for test scores, but it seems as though principals do5. Otherwise, the case in a typical Seattle public school seems to be the same as in my school. Teachers often find themselves teaching to the test, though they follow the standards and generally pull from Smarter Balances test-like questions (which seems to be common). The students in elementary schools do not seem to be very affected by the tests other than it accounts for a reduction in recess, which is sad and counter productive6. Scores are weighed as part of a teacher evaluation and students are not help back at the elementary level for poor scores.
Personally I feel that as long as there are high stakes, like bonuses and long term consequences attached to the standardized tests, test prep activities will continue to dominate instructional time. Rather than focusing on developing the whole child and the important components of—critical thinking, imagination, the arts, recess, collaboration, problem based learning, and more, high stakes testing seems to do more harm than good.
1.(November 6th, 2015). RTI Practice Falls Short of Practice. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/11/11/study-rti-practice-falls-short-of-promise.html
2. School Digger Menlo Park Elementary School. Retrieved from http://www.schooldigger.com/go/OR/schools/0394001032/school.aspx
3.Stipek, Deborah & Lombardo, Michael. (May 20, 2014). Holding Kids Back Doesn’t Help Them. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/05/21/32stipek.h33.html
4. Producer. Real Link Films. Directors. Vicki Abeles & Jessica Congdon. Race To Nowhere. USA
5. Taylor, Dora. (Dec 15th, 2014). Seattle Public School Principals receive bribes, uh, bonuses, based on student test scores. Retrieved from https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/seattle-public-school-principals-receive-brides-uh-bonuses-based-on-student-test-scores/
6.Hagopian. Jesse . (October 6, 2015). Recess in Seattle: How We Won the Right to Play. Retrieved from http://www.progressive.org/news/2015/10/188351/recess-seattle-how-we-won-right-play
7. Hagopian. Jesse. (November 2, 2015). Retrieved from Obama’s regret: “Taking the joy out of teaching and learning”. https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/obamas-regret-taking-the-joy-out-of-teaching-and-learning/