Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Heartbreak of High Stakes Testing

This week the new ELA assessments are being administered in New York.  After two days the comments are pouring in, and they are heartwrenching and infuriating.  

(The following comments were excerpted from this article

A teacher offers insight on the physical stress of the students during the exams.

"I am a middle school teacher and proctored the 6th and 8th grade exams over these past 3 days. I have never seen so many children become physically ill, asthma attacks, full panic attacks, vomiting during the exam and generalized anxiety throughout the exams. Many children had to be removed from the classroom sent to the nurse or sent home."

And the same view from a parent's perspective.

"seeing my little girl not able to pull herself emotionally together, after leaving the test room has my blood boiling! She's a child that doesn't really struggle with academics but the way these exams are given and written are very stressful for even the average child. I can't imagine how it is for the children who are more challenged by academics. I really dread next weeks math exams. Math seems to frustrate her and I am scared it will actually make her sick."

Apparently the assessments' multiple choice questions were confusing and students were unsure of the correct answers.

"I am a third grade teacher in NY and I have administered these tests since they started giving them to third graders, about ten years ago. I have never seen anything like this. Usually the bubble sheets look pretty uniform when I stack them up and alphabetize them to hand in. 

There were no patterns to the bubbles on Tuesday - everyone's sheet looked different. Reading over the test, I could not figure out the correct answer to several questions. I am quite sure I would not score well on this test. Many questions seemed to have two good answers, and I had a hard time figuring out which was better. The questions are dry, often asking students to compare paragraphs."

A parent's perspective on the ambiguity of the assessments.

 "My 8th grader made Stuy and Townsend yet the test yesterday was unfair because on almost every question there were two sensible answers leaving the "best" response a subjective decision in the hands of Pearson. Who can ever epic heck them when the tests are secured for destruction afterwards and no one can ever see the questions and answer keys? Every multiple choice question is graphed on a spreadsheet and given a proficiency rating where a correct anger isn't necessarily a "4", it could be fit, but not right enough, so the student doesn't get full credit. In real life this doesn't happen. If we are preparing them for college and job readiness, then Pearson needs to spend some more time in the workplace!"

Again more vague test questions and inadequate time to finish the exam.

"8th grader going to Stuy in the fall felt awful because didn't finish the essay. Said the multiple choice questions frequently had two possible answers. ELA teacher went over the questions in class discussion and in many cases agreed that there were two equally valid answers. 

Honestly, this test makes me love the SHSAT, which at least is adequately field-tested. (And no, the kid didn't prep for years for the SHSAT.) 

What does this state-sanctioned child abuse say about us as a society?"

"No learning is taking place on the testing days."

"Proctored fifth grade test for students who got time-and-a-half. Half of the students used more than the regular time, which I have never seen before. Directions were confusing and wordy, and the need for two books for Day 2 was confusing. Today proctoring took 3 hours; spending 2 hrs 15 minutes each day. The amount of focus required is causing students to lose it afterward -- lots of injuries in the schoolyard at recess as kids try to get all their energy out. Serious ones, too - stitches, etc. The stress level among kids and adults in the building is incredible -- we all just sit afterward. No learning is taking place on the testing days."

One educator hits the nail on the head.

"A few observations from the trenches:

1. Had to look at a most intelligent reader and writer in the eye and tell him he had no more time to write. After 90 minutes of working so hard there was no time left to write the essay -- worth the bulk of the points. Will this "poor performance" indicate my poor teaching and/or his poor learning?

2. Pearson, the writer of the test, used content from its very own basal reader series that it sells to districts on one of the exams this year. This places purchasers of its series at an advantage. If students were familiar with that content before the test (as many were), we do not have all students starting at the same point. Is this measuring reading comprehension or prior knowledge? Or a district's ability to buy textbooks?

3. Last, an essay asked students, at the conclusion of reading two pieces, to write about "the story" without naming it. Kids had to go back and see subtle nuances in the introductions to determine which piece they had to discuss. Several students became angry that a question would be written in this manner. They felt defeated before they began.

This is not about stress and anxiety as much as this is about parents and teachers doing right by our kids. Tests should be fair. The writers of the test should not be using materials from their products on tests in order to serve as incentives for districts to buy their products. 

So happy my own children are not participating in this game."

Lastly, a scathing comment written by a teacher who is fed up with the assessments that are designed to make the children fail.

"To Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents:

Ok. I have to say it bluntly. Your hubris, MT JK and Co., will be your downfall.

Do not kid yourself. I proctored this exam and it was unfair. I feel as though the test was designed for the children to fail. I know I am right because you have admitted it in memos to us, the teachers, in saying that our APPR will not be damaged this year by falling test scores. 

So, you know the tests were designed for children to fail. YES, I said CHILDREN. 

Do not fool yourselves. This was not rigor. This was impossibility. The thorough readers who employed the tactics you paid for Expeditionary Learning to push down our throats (for free!) did not work on this exam. It was LITERALLY (yes, I know what it means) impossible for a grade-level reader (130 wpm or so) to read the passages and answer the questions.

In my class, the BEST readers did the fewest questions because the attacked they test with diligence. Diligence that handcuffed them and is forcing their failure.


Stop the lies. This is not Common Core. This is YOU, MT JK and State ED, declaring WAR on the children, families, and teachers of our great state! Worst of all? You admit it! You put it in writing. 

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it is Pearson who has blinded you with their wealth and chicanery. Maybe you didn't even see the test or take it yourself. 

We know Pearson reviles engageny because it is free and cuts their profits. Maybe it is not you, but they who have prevailed with your heads being lobbed off. 

In any case, come down off the ivory tower. Your misguided, misconstrued and ill-willed attempts at educational reform will go down in the history books as a DEBACLE."

There are numerous other comments and I am sure that more will be added as the assessments continue.  We have to stop this insanity. Yes, insanity.  

Since when did a test score matter more than anything else? 

My child is more than a number.  So is yours.  My child has hopes, dreams and desires.  Those of which cannot be measured on a test.  Most which are not considered "necessary" for success. But is it success to grind away the very qualities that make our children who they are?

Our future encompasses more than a tiny bubble on a test.


  1. Oh, HIIII.
    These comments from parents and teachers on that post break my heart.
    Kids should not have that level of stress over a STUPID test!

    1. Mimi, I completely agree. We have to stop this!

    2. Oh, we're gonna, sistah!! :)


I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions! Please keep the comments respectful and mature. We are all in this together. United we stand.