Schools are putting too much emphasis on standardized tests


Once again, it's standardized testing time in many public schools.

Maybe it's because I've always been such a poor test-taker that I am so critical of these tests.

I studied like a fiend in college, but froze during every test, fixating on the misspelled words on the exam, certain they were there to serve as trick questions for the true and false answers. All night I'd dream about formulas. Riding my bike to class I'd recite formulas. Yet, when presented with the test, my mind would blank, and I couldn't remember one formula, though I had known every one needed to pass the exam successfully, right up until the moment I sat down to take the exam.

While completing the test, my classmates would give me thumbs up, smiling away, since I was the one who had made up the songs to learn the bones, nerves, algebra formulas, all those clever rhymes I forgot while taking the test.

Fortunately, some of my professors had heard me sing these songs in class and called me to their offices to ask what had happened on my tests. I was relieved these people not only cared enough to call me in, but let me answer their exams orally.

Who will do this with the Stanford 9 or AIMS test?

The fact that I had dismal grades on my exams did not mean that my instructors were doing a poor job of presenting class material, nor that I was a poor student who failed to study and complete my assignments. But who would know that by simply looking at the scores?

How can we justify retaining students who haven't received the educational support services needed to help them be successful?

Until class sizes are reduced and support services increased, we should not be using tests as a measure of accountability, not that we ever should. Who has a chance under the current conditions?

The problem with relying so heavily on tests as a means to track both a school and a student's progress is that we're utilizing a quick fix to a much more complicated educational crisis in the public schools. We're not addressing or meeting the needs of many of our students.

These tests may measure the academic strengths and weaknesses to some degree, but they won't serve as a remedy to all the instructional time lost preparing students just for those tests, nothing else.

I'd rather see my second-grade daughter come home from school telling me about the science experiments she's doing at school than watch her show me the practice test questions she missed, fearing she'll be retained if she does poorly on the real test.

Even though the state doesn't require this test until third grade, some schools believe all this practice will improve their ability to produce children who are better test-takers. There are many experiences I'd like to see my daughter come home from school with. Being an improved test-taker isn't one of them.

I suppose they can keep firing administrators and teachers until the scores improve, but until they address the issues involving why children may not be doing well, and come up with a better means to test accountability than an exam, those scores probably won't improve, unless there's a great deal of cheating going on during testing week.

Imagine the anxiety many students will face when the word retention is involved. A student like myself will probably end up dropping out of school.

As a special-education teacher, I have been listening to my students express their concerns about this test for several weeks. While their classmates read along and fill in the bubbles on the practice sheets, my students are left without any means to show what they do know.

Perhaps our legislators should spend one month teaching in a public school before they so blindly approve spending more money on tests as a means to prove accountability. I'd rather know my daughter is enjoying school by being introduced to a world of science, literature, and other meaningful experiences than know she scored in the 90th percentile on a test that means absolutely nothing to her or me.

*Diana Payne is a fifth-grade special-education teacher in Arizona.

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