Standardized Testing: The Teacher's Dilemma

Posted in In Their Words on May 19, 2017 - by Sara N.

Bored student taking a standardized test

As I sit in the computer lab while my students take our state’s standardized test, I can sense the angst in the room. I can sense that even though I had the students do a brain break and talked about ‘taking a breath’ during a test, I do not hear them breathing. I hear clicking and sighing, which in a way is breathing, but not the kind I want to hear.

No matter how well we have “prepared” for the test, there will be some students who rush through because this is an uncomfortable situation. There will be some students who get discouraged and overwhelmed by the amount of text on the page, so they will guess blindly. There will be students who know these answers, but forget because they are nervous and feel like this is a big deal and they don’t want to disappoint.

One of my qualities as a teacher is that I can always find a positive in anything.

While standardized testing it not the most productive and enjoyable part of teaching, it does have its positive aspects. One of my qualities as a teacher is that I can always find a positive in anything. It is in my nature. I want to be flexible and have a growth mindset. Without this attitude, teaching would be miserable, especially in the case of standardized assessments.

Not only are the students anxious about these tests, but I too worry about the students, the tests, and what effect they have on education. As their teacher, I worry that we could be doing so many more meaningful activities and lessons in the classroom.

This test is taking away from our time we could be learning. I worry that the students are stressed and anxious, comparing themselves to their neighbor who has just finished. No matter how many times I tell them, “It is not a race,” many kids are competitive in nature and always want to be first. I worry about all the time we “wasted” preparing for these tests, when we also could have been doing so many more daily life-relevant tasks.

Maybe I could have fit in more hands-on science experiments. Maybe I could have read them more books, or had them do more partner work to learn how to cooperate. Maybe we could have written about more of our likes and dislikes, so they would be able to convince someone else of their opinion when it became necessary in real life.

I could have spent that time talking about kindness, cooperation, empathy, and those qualities that help children throughout life. We could be talking about how they can problem solve when they are having a fight with their friends. Maybe we could have taken another field trip.

I despise how during teacher education courses, we often discuss standardized testing and how it negatively affects the students. Standardized testing is a stigma in education. Teacher preparation courses motivated me to say,

I am going to be the teacher to fight this because it is against my beliefs. Then I got a job.

I was and still am so thankful to get a job in this field because they are few and far between.

Now I won’t dare say anything about how awful standardized testing is. I wouldn’t dare refuse to give it to my students because I am afraid to lose the job that I worked so hard to get.

I hate that I am not that teacher who can actively fight standardized testing. I hate that I put my students through it, even though I believe it has mostly negative effects on them. I hate that I allow the system to control my beliefs.

But if I am to find the positive in this dilemma, I ask the question, “Can this kind of testing actually benefit our students?” I think about my own experiences with standardized testing when I was in school. I realize that it did help me learn valuable test-taking skills.

It helped me to manage my time when answering questions - first you read the passage, then you read the questions, then you answer the ones you know right away, then you go back to the passage to search for the ones that are difficult. I learned about taking on multiple-choice questions. First, I had to look at which ones are ridiculous and couldn’t possibly be the answer. Then, when I found a couple that could work, I had to read the questions carefully again to make sure I knew what it was asking. I had to read carefully because questions on a test can be super tricky.

Standardized testing also teaches students to focus on something for a long time and power through when they feel like they can’t take it anymore. It is part of our growth mindset philosophy that is so important to teach them. They must do their best to try to get to the end of the test in a given amount of time.

As a teacher, I do not feel as though standardized testing is proper for our students, but also feel I must make the best of this situation for my students. I am torn on the topic of standardized testing. Given the chance, I would hope that lawmakers in education would get rid of it without any questions asked. Our students are already so stressed. I can tell by the anxiety my kids have with even the simplest daily routines. This anxiety and pressure to do well does not boost their confidence. In fact, it may even make them hate school.

While standardized testing is a necessary part of education, at least in public education, it has a negative effect on our students. It can cause them to become frustrated and shut down. It also takes time out of our learning in the classroom where teachers could be teaching other important life skills.

While I do not agree with testing, it does seem to prepare kids for requirements they will need to meet before getting into college. The education world is a tough one. As a teacher, I try to make a difference and make everything I do relevant to students’ lives instead of “teaching to the test”.

I will continue to be positive and smile during testing because ultimately, I have no choice. I must give these tests. All I can do is my best to ensure that students continue to build confidence during testing rather than get discouraged. I can take the time we do have in the classroom and remind them to enjoy school.

Deep down, I yearn for there to be no standardized state assessments so that my students can be students, instead of a number between 1 and 4 to tell us whether they are on grade level or not because I assure you, we do not need this number to tell us this information. Sometimes that number is wrong based on whether a student had breakfast or slept the night before. Although I will still administer the tests, I am confident that standardized tests do not tell us who our students are.

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About the author: Sara N.

Sara has worked in education for around 6 years. Presently, she teaches in a public elementary school. In order to protect Sara, her full name specific bio details have been retracted.