Told you so! Watching testing fail

imgres-1I told them so, they told me as well but rules are rules. So this morning I headed over to the school to test a third grade child with autism. This child is an ELL ( English Language Learner) student so is required to take the Access test from WIDA. We are testing for listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Over all the test looks like it was well designed. I have not studied this test or other ELL tests. I am no expert in this area. I am the testing coordinator, emphasis on coordinator. I make the test happen – schedules, check in and out materials, be sure all rules are followed and ship the materials them back.

My job today was to follow the rules. This student needed to try all four parts of the test. We knew – teacher, ELL staff and myself this was not going to work – but we are required by law to try. So I tried.

I must say the student was wonderful. He sat, he listened, he chatted away with me – although I must say I can’t tell you what our conversation was about. We began the listening test. If  I could keep his attention toward the book his first answer for the questions were correct but then he went on to fill in all the bubbles. He would look to me for the ok – “is this the right answer”  the look said. He didn’t have the words for it but his eyes told me he knew what he was suppose to do. He knew there was a right answer. He knew he needed to fill in the bubble. He wanted to do well. And I think given a different structure he could have answered many of the answers but …

The but is the effects of autism. There was this wonderful child before me – the messages were going in, being processed but before they could come back out or on the way to expressing his thinking everything would get scrambled. He tried. He really tried but this was not a valid test for him. We can mark it invalid. That is fine and I will do this again tomorrow with another little one who may not even be able to sit still long enough to even look at the test booklet.

My thoughts are this – we are spending time (a special needs child’s valuable time and teacher time), energy and money to test where we know as qualified teachers this will not give us a valuable assessment of what this child can or can not do. We have learned he can not take this type of test. We knew that before we started:

  • arranging teachers and my schedule to have a quiet room with support,
  • gathered materials,
  • founding external speaks for the listing section
  • moving 5 other students to another location while we tested

I don’t have all the answers to the testing situation in this country. What I do know is that in our national effort to be sure our children are well educated we have lost respect for our teachers and their professionalism. We do not trust the teachers with any decisions. Everything must be exactly the same – school wide, state wide, and nationally. Hmm – that might work when making cars, table and chairs but we are raising children. Each one unique, each one with a different set of skills and needs.

I recall from my past that teachers were highly respected professionals. They were trusted to see and know the students before them. They were expected to access and support their students in anyway needed to be sure they learned. They did not work with a one size fits all model.

It did not feel like that today. Professionally I knew this was not a good situation for this student. I made it be a positive and happy experience for him. However, I think he would have gained more from doing his regular morning routine and lessons. He did not gain from this testing experience. We did not gain from this testing experience. So who gained something and what was it?

Assessments are needed (local, specific with quick feedback), teachers need to be professional (well trained, support and mentored) and we need to close the achievement gap!  Got it!

This massive amount of crazy testing is just not going to do what we need. We need to stop and think!

A change is needed but

  • Is testing the needed change?
  • How many years have we been doing this over amount of testing?  (NCLB was signed in to law in 2002)
  • Has this testing helped close the gap?
  • Has this testing made teachers or teaching more professional?
  • Do teacher feel more trusted and respected for their professional skills?
  • Has this testing brought large numbers of bright, young, eager people into the profession?

Just wondering!  Lots of questions – are the right people asking the right questions or is education just another way to make money these days?

Where is the larger community seeking help for the needs of all students?


Thanks for letting me share the questions we are all thinking as the spring testing season moves into place!





About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Told you so! Watching testing fail

  1. newtreemom says:

    Thank you for all your thinking and questions. Maybe the time is coming that we will begin to see some changes that lead away from so much emphasis on testing.

    The ACCESS test, which is new in my state this year, seems more well-designed than our former language proficiency test- but it is not appropriate for every student.

    A teacher friend and I just had a conversation recently in which we agreed that results haven’t changed that much with the emphasis on testing… but the enjoyment of our school days used to be much higher than it is now- and if the teachers feel that way, what about the students?

    And I think the “money-making” question is a real concern. I often wonder why taxpayers are not protesting all the education money that goes into testing…

  2. Tara Smith says:

    “Are the right people asking the right questions or is education just another way to make money these days?”
    That’s the heart of it – and until we rise up and ask the question enough, we aren’t going to see any changes.

  3. showgem says:

    I had a professional development day today. The conversation was about the future of teaching. Many of the questions you asked were brought up in our discussions. We talked about one size fits all is not what education is all about. It’s important to keep the conversations going to create an awareness of what we do as teachers based on policy and what the affect it has on our students.

  4. Joanne Toft says:

    Nice to hear this discussion was happening in other places today besides inside my head! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Oh, such a hard day! Sorry! My essential question is: If testing is supposed to drive instruction, why does THIS testing always seem to bring the instruction to a screeching halt?

  6. Your asking all of the right questions, Joanne. I think you should be taking this post and shaping it into letters to send to our elected officials and those who are in power at the US DoE!

  7. Dana Murphy says:

    That’s a tough situation. What struck me the most in all that you wrote is that teachers are no longer treated like professionals. If state and federal officials are going to make all our decisions for us, why don’t they just hire anybody to stand in the classroom and babysit?

    Kudos for trying your best to turn this situation into a more positive experience for this student.

  8. Frustrating! I posted about the testing conundrum on Facebook just yesterday in response to the reworking of ESEA. Thanks for sharing your observations, reflections and thoughts. They matter and can make a difference! Here’s a bit of what I posted:

    We are testing our students to death, taking too much time from purposeful teaching and learning and robbing much of the joy from our classrooms. I’m glad researchers are standing up to say we lack evidence to demonstrate that test-centered reforms equalize performance. They simply do not. Currently, in Utah, we test extensively at every single grade level. These tests take hours upon hours to administer and complete and students are subjected to high levels of stress. This does not improve learning. I certainly don’t want students to walk away thinking these tests are what learning is all about! I suspect if we keep going at this rate our poorest schools and our poorest students will suffer greatly and the drop-out rate will soar. It’s a tough time to be a student. It’s a tough time to be a teacher. We need change!

  9. Also, you might tweet your post with the hashtag #timetolearn 🙂

  10. Ramona says:

    So much of what we are asked to do in regards to testing seems an exercise in futility and a waste of precious learning time. So glad you shared your thinking with us today.

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