When I want to measure all my hard work at the gym, I use a scale. When I want to see I how much carpet I need to put in my house, I use a tape measure to measure the walls. When I want to see how much water to put into the banana pancakes I make for breakfast, I use a measuring cup. I have learned a valuable lesson in my life. I know to use the correct measuring tool that is required for the job I want done. If my tool told me that I needed 2 pounds of water, I would know that I was using the wrong tool.
Every spring, the nation wants to measure the progress of my students. I am given a tool that is chock full of stories my students have no interest in, pages students are not allowed to mark on, and bubbles that my second graders are expected to fill in. My students have never seen a test in this format. There are many skills that this test requires that my students don't know. I teach my students all year that they need to show their work so I can understand what they are doing. However, now they have to read the problem in the book, do the work on a separate piece of scratch paper, and then record the answer on another sheet by filling in the correct bubble with their sharpened number two pencil. I don't think I can paint a clear enough picture of the looks on the kids' faces as we attempt this test. Now throw in the timer as most of these tests have time limits in some form. "Now you have 3 minutes to read the directions and answer questions 4-7. Please begin." I would rather steal their lunch money than have to deal with their frustration over this test.
Once you open the test books, it gets even worse. Arizona has it state standard which tell me all of the things my students should master by the time they go on to third grade. I have heard people say that Arizona has not met a standard it doesn't like so I know that our standards are good and comprehensive. I know that if I followed those standards, my students have a bank of knowledge that should empower them to do well on any test. I see item after item that was not in my standard for second grade. I see things that I know that they won't learn till fourth grade. I see hands go up all over the room as students attempt to ask for help or clarification. My heart breaks as I remind them that I am only allowed to read my "script" and that they just have to do the best they can. Every year, some students cry, some give up, and some just make random marks in the books.
As a teacher, I know that is valuable to collaborate with others and reflect on data and practices. However, none of that happens with this test. We all sign waivers and contracts saying that we will not discuss or disclose any of the items in the test for fear of losing our jobs. You would think that this test was some high priority secret of national security instead of a factor in the housing market which it has become. When the data finally comes in 6 months after the test when my students have all gone home for the summer, I have to sit in a meeting and pretend that I don't remember any of the questions on the test as I try and rationalize with my team why my class scored in the 50th percentile. I know that other teachers across the nation are having the same discussions. I know that some teachers will be dismissed because of the results and some schools will be closed or get a change in leadership. It all seems very ideological because we want all students to succeed and we don't want to leave a child behind, but what about the teachers we're leaving behind?
These tests are required to hold teachers and schools accountable. They do succeed at that. They shine spotlights on our practices and curriculums. You can read about this in almost any newspaper. There are no longer any secrets in the classroom any longer. However, these tests have not brought true understanding of what happens in a classroom. They are shrouded in secrecy and fears of teaching to the test. The spotlight needs to come back on these tests so the public can see how damaged they are. It is crucial to check rulers, clocks, and levels to make sure they have not fallen out of alignment. It's time to check these tests because they are not aligned with what we are teaching our students. We are not seeing the results we should be seeing. That tells me that we need a new ruler. These tests preach the importance of accountability for teachers but who is holding the tests accountable? As I'm sure Alanis would say, "Isn't that ironic? Don't you think?"