By Dr. Richard Thripp
May 8, 2021
An over-emphasis on testing is often justified on the basis that we need to be able to measure student learning and achievement. Proponents of testing herald it as valuable data that teachers and administrators use to inform their practices. In truth, teachers rarely use data from many of the standardized or district-level assessments being used, and administrators often use it to draw precisely the wrong conclusions. Assessments themselves are often lacking in the way of design and relevance, with a focus on multiple-choice questions with 4 choices per question and questions that are misaligned with curricular standards, what is actually being taught, and what is of actual importance to be assessed. Furthermore, as a teacher, I have on several occasions observed district assessments where the “right” answer was in fact subjective and debatable, due to another choice being just as good. In some cases, such as a question that claimed the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee was established in the 1950s (it was established in 1938), they are just plain wrong.
Although I am astute enough to avoid subscribing to the logical fallacy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, nonetheless it is not debatable that assessments gobble up valuable instructional time. Why do we keep finding ways to restrict, curtail, and interrupt instructional time? Tests on top of tests, along with unnecessarily disruptive events, announcements, safety drills, and school procedures that are almost deviously designed to entice truancy. For example, in my teaching practice at a high school, it was discovered mid-year by administration that they had no way to produce reports on students who skipped only some periods, but not the whole day. This burden was promptly shifted to teachers by way of a mass email asking teachers to report such students, which once again serves to take away instructional time. Many teachers have 10%, 20%, or even more of their periods taken up with tasks such as distributing testing notifications or other papers to students, writing passes, unlocking or asking a colleague to unlock credit retrieval assessments, and sending mountains of emails.
While the aforementioned problems are not new, in the wake of COVID-19 they have been exacerbated by increased absenteeism, and, in Florida, a 2020–2021 school year that started out with fake promises of fewer assessments, when in fact politicians and school leaders should have said we are not only going to do the regular amount of assessing, but add assessments for the noble goal of enhanced “monitoring” of student progress, plus administer all the assessments that were canceled last year due to the virus. Clear-minded educators know that assessments are of no value unless they are assessing the fruits of actual teaching and learning. Teachers and students alike are dejected, with a sizable proportion of students just guessing or picking at random on most items. Others want to succeed, but have not actually had the requisite instruction needed to succeed on the assessments. Instead of making time and space for education, we test them anyway, and then we congratulate ourselves for doing such a good job testing them, bandying about terms like “accountability” and “growth.” Sometimes, as in April 2021, we announce that statewide exams are not going to count, but we are still going to do them and they may count depending on how it goes. Where is the logic? When are we going to end this charade? Most educators are loath to speak out because in education, we live by the Japanese proverb, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This needs to change.