Teaching Middle School, Week 13: The reality of high-stakes TESTING

IMG_9833Imagine that this, above, is your setting for 5 days – from 8:10 until about noon each day.

Except that the words on the window – taken down. Any interesting posters – taken down.

Bare concrete block walls, tile floors, fluorescent light, and silence surround you.

In the 3 to 4 hours you are testing, you get to stand up once – for 5-10 minutes.

You can’t go to the bathroom. You can’t talk – even during the break.

You have to concentrate really hard for an entire morning.

And you’re 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 years old!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

This is the reality of state-mandated, high-stakes testing.

Our schedule had the students taking a reading test on Wednesday, a writing test on Thursday, and a math test on Friday. This week will be science on Tuesday and, finally, social studies on Wednesday.

I don’t know that many adults who would thrive in this setting, who would do well on these tests.

Because of the cheating that went on in metro Atlanta and other places a few years ago, testing now is super strict. We teachers can’t even be on our computers during testing – or  look at our phones. We have hall monitors posted outside our doors.

We can’t even look at the tests we’re administering.

As I circulate through the room on math day, I see kids writing. Not just filling in multiple choice bubbles, but writing sentences.

My thought then: Who is going to read this? How is this scored?

There are many, many – thousands of middle schoolers – in the state. Are there going to be table readers who each read each student’s test and confer with each other to be sure each student is graded fairly (as they do on Advanced Placement exams)?

Or is one person who is being paid a low hourly wage going to be the reader? Will one person determine whether this student has written a good explanation?

And what if this reader is tired? Is having a bad day? Or has trouble with the student’s handwriting? (And let me assure you, reading handwriting in this day and age is a challenge!).

Will that student get a fair assessment of her explanation? Will he be rewarded for a thoughtful answer, even if it’s difficult to read?

I am struck with the absurdity of high-stakes testing.

Just because we can use computers to sort data, to analyze all kinds of statistics, that doesn’t mean those statistics are valid and meaningful.

Teachers teach human beings, not statistics. Young human beings. Human beings in the early stages of development.

Young human beings who are full of energy, who have trouble sitting and concentrating for 20 minutes at a time – yet we expect them to sit still and concentrate for 2 to 3 to 4 hours at a time for days in a row.

And if they don’t do well, we deem them failures.

We deem their teachers failures.

And we deem their schools failures.

We don’t take into account the student’s situation at this time.

Whether her grandmother, the person who has been the student’s real mother, has just died – and the student is wondering where she’ll live now. . . . along with feeling overwhelming grief.

Whether she had to get up and get her two brothers, one of whom is special needs, ready for their testing days – because her mom is working one of her three jobs.

Whether his father didn’t come home last night and the student is worried if his dad is okay – or is in jail or in the hospital.

Whether his mother is going through breast cancer treatments and may not be able to work and bring in the desperately-needed income to feed the family – along with his worry that she might die.

Whether his father beat the hell out of his mother last night.

Whether she had no dinner last night because there was no food in the house – and went to bed hungry.

Whether she got no sleep because her mother and her mother’s boyfriend fought all night, yelling, screaming, slamming doors.

Whether he lives in a house where they’re cooking meth – and he is worried that the house might explode while he’s sleeping.

None of this matters.

Because, you see, only scores and data matter.


And our society wonders what is wrong with public schools today.






One thought on “Teaching Middle School, Week 13: The reality of high-stakes TESTING

  1. Pingback: Teaching Middle School, Week 14: Testing completed & pondering “fairness” | eddies and currents

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