When Testing Becomes Too Much
By TLB Contributing Author: Lorana Hoopes
When I was in high school back in the 1990s, we had standardized testing, but it wasn’t anything like it is today. Our test was a pretty simple reading, writing, and math test to make sure you had the skills to make it on your own outside of high school. I knew a few students who didn’t pass it, but very few, and these students were generally ones with severe learning disorders. They weren’t reading or doing math at a high school level in their classes, but they were being tested at a high school level, which is one thing I really hate about these standardized tests.
I understand that when they started, legislators were using them to make sure children could make it in the real world, and I think that was a great idea. We need to try and get people off welfare, and making sure they know how to read and do simple math so they can get a job is helpful, but then the makers of the tests realized what a big money maker it was, and they decided we needed to test kids more often. We needed to test them starting in 3rd grade, and every two years after. But then that wasn’t enough, so we added science in 4th and 8th grade. And everyone needed to take the same test so that it was fair.
Before becoming a teacher, I worked as an education assistant for the developmentally delayed students. These were 7th and 8th graders who could barely tell the difference between a dime and quarter, much less count them, but they were being tested on pre-Algebra. Needless to say, they didn’t pass, and the school’s report card showed it. How fair is it to judge a school on a test some students will never pass because it is above their level? Oh, and another little-known fact. Students are allowed to opt out of these standardized tests, at least until 10th grade, but when they do schools get a zero for that student and zeros kill a school’s report card. Again, how fair is it to punish a school’s rating if a kid is absent or chooses not to take the test? Why isn’t the score determined on the students who actually took the test? Probably because if it were, more schools would have a higher pass rate and there would be no need to change the test and make more money.
Teachers were told these tests would help with our teaching, but we don’t even get the scores until the next school year. It’s too late then to help the students we had last year as we don’t have them anymore. And you can’t use the data from the previous class on the new class because they aren’t the same kids. So, for teachers, these tests don’t help us at all, unless you have your students for several years in a row.
With all of these issues, I decided to get involved, and I started working on test committees in my state. I was floored when I went to one committee whose purpose was to see if the test questions were good questions. Keep in mind, schools were being told they needed to eventually have 100% pass rate or face fines or loss of funding, so I thought this would be a great experience.
And it was, but it was also eye opening.
This committee would look at the questions and if too many students failed a test question, they would throw it out. Sounds fair, right? Except they also did the opposite. If too many students got the question right, they would also toss it. How was a school ever supposed to reach 100% passing rate if we were throwing away the questions all the kids got right? I started to become disillusioned by these tests.
Then I signed up to score for a test that I had never heard of before, and when I showed up, I was floored. I had no idea there were standardized tests for non-verbal students. These are students who don’t speak but communicate with pointing a finger or moving an eye. Now, I am not saying these students didn’t deserve a quality education, they did and they do, but to test them on it was ridiculous. And my state shelled out a ton of money not only to administer the tests, but then to train people to score the tests. We sat in a room for a week, with catered food, discussing whether an eye movement amounted to a passing score or not. I was sick. How much money was wasted on tests like these? And why add that stress to these teachers?
Then my state got a new superintendent and I thought maybe he would step up and change these inane tests, and he did make some good changes like making more multiple choice and cutting down the amount of questions, but he also decided to rename the test. My state spent thousands of dollars to reprint the exact same questions on new papers with the new test name. Very few of the questions changed, and I know because again I was working on committees writing them and scoring them. In a state where we can’t fully fund education, I was again sickened by how much money we were spending on changing the name of a test.
Then Common Core happened and once again the tests had to change name. More thousands of dollars spent and now the “whoever is in charge” decided that pre-Algebra should be taught in 7th grade and Algebra in 8th grade. Now, there are some kids who can do this, but studies have shown that a lot of students’ minds don’t develop before 10th or 11th grade to do Algebra, but hey let’s force them to do it sooner and make them feel terrible about themselves when they struggle in the process. And instead of teaching them a math they might actually use in the real world like balancing a checkbook or calculating APRs, let’s make them take Algebra I, II and Geometry, so that they hate math even more because they don’t see the point of it. Be honest, unless you are a math teacher, how many of you deal with adding exponents every day?
Not only did the tests change names again, but they became harder. I took the 8th grade math test and struggled through it, and I have a Master’s in Education. If I struggle as a middle-aged woman, how fair is it to place this test on kids and threaten withholding graduation from them if they don’t pass? There are also many stories of legislators who received such concern from parents that they took the test as an example and failed. These tests are no longer basic knowledge requirement tests, now they are college preparatory tests, but here’s a little secret – not all kids want to go to college and we still have the SATs and ACTs for those who do. Even a poet of one of the poems used on a STAAR test (the Texas standardized test couldn’t answer the questions about her poetry. (Poet: I can’t answer questions on Texas standardized tests about my own poems) So why are we making our kids so stressed out by these tests? Because the test makers say we should. By the way, the test makers write our textbooks now too, so CHA-CHING, more money for them. And we buy them because they say they’ll prepare our kids for the test. Well of course they will because they write the tests, and when they want more money, they can just change the test and then change the text books. It’s a vicious cycle we have been sucked into.
Last year, I gave a speech to the school board about these tests, and in my research, I found that there is a significant number of tests that get returned to scoring facilities with vomit on them (Is the Use of Standardized Tests Improving Education in America?) Why? Because students are so stressed out by the tests that they throw up all over them. Why on earth are we stressing our children to the point that they are losing their lunch on a test booklet? Is this test going to help them in the real world? Nope. Will it get them a job? Nope.
The only thing these new tests are doing is lining the pockets of the people who make them.
TLB Note: Lorana Hoopes is The Liberty Beacon Projects newest Contributing Author and brings a solid background in education, teaching our children, and other talents into this project. We look forward to many great articles and commentaries from Lorana in the future.