There is a groundswell of consensus that our schools are failing. This issue has been building for over a decade regionally, statewide and nationally. Those of us who devoted our careers to teaching and spent our days surrounded by children feel the cold sting of truth to this appraisal. Having seen many educational trends come and go, we have the benefit and perspective of the long view. We are distressed and heartbroken to see what is happening locally in District 9-R.
The outrageous overemphasis on student assessment in our schools is ruining public education. All this testing has taken on a life of its own; rather than placing the focus on teaching and supporting each child to reach his or her personal best, our school districts have become slaves to “data.”
This is a huge travesty. We are failing our students, our teachers and our communities in the name of “data.” Assessment does not equal achievement. In fact, it is a total contradiction to the rich business of teachers teaching and students learning.
No one is arguing against teacher accountability or the need for diagnostic evaluation. We all know that a limited amount of testing is necessary to inform instruction and check student performance. But the situation we have now – particularly in our own school district – is just plain wrong. Why?
Beyond a very limited amount, testing does not improve student performance. To the contrary, excessive testing subtracts instructional time and decreases learning. Do the math: take the amount of time “practicing” for tests, the time actually taking the tests and the time engaged in superficial test-driven activities. Add to that the amount of time teachers and administrators are spending on collecting, manipulating and analyzing the data, and it is a fair estimate to say that one third of each school year is consumed by assessment! By my calculations, this means that by the time a child graduates from high school, he or she has had the equivalent of a ninth-grade education. An obvious analogy is health-related; repeatedly measuring blood pressure does not improve it!
All this assessment reduces the quality of instruction and does not engender authentic learning. Learning activities need to be relevant, meaningful, engaging and rich. I would submit that the constant testing we have going on is limiting the depth and breadth of student learning in our school district. Our schools are becoming joyless, stressful places, especially for the very bright and struggling students. Throughout our community, there is talk about how kids are becoming disenfranchised and don’t like school. As the adults responsible for the quality of their education, we should do better.
This model of excessive testing contradicts everything we know about the fields of child development, learning theory, brain research, emotional intelligence and best instructional practice. These are significant, scientifically based bodies of knowledge held in high regard by generations of educators. Once embraced by 9-R, they have largely been abandoned on any practical level. Why? Many of us believe this is a direct result of outrageous amount of time and resources being spent chasing “data.” I think that’s a pretty serious indictment.
The overemphasis on testing in our school district has created a huge crisis in teacher morale. It is physically impossible for teachers to provide excellent instruction while managing an endless stream of assessments. There is an implicit message being given that teachers are not working hard enough, which could not be farther from the truth. Teaching has always been very hard work; with the current situation, we are breeding a culture of stress, negativity and shame. As administrators put more and more pressure on teachers around testing, we will see more and more veteran teachers leaving the profession. The loss of these experts is immeasurable; there is no substitute for experience. We could accomplish so much more by providing professional development and support for teachers and by letting them do what they have been trained to do – teach!
The School Vault developed by the current administration is an atrocity. Anyone with any kind of technical knowledge of tests and measurement would be able to recognize that many of the test items are poorly written, nonspecific to the point of being ambiguous and not helpful in informing instruction. In other words, this is a waste of time, money and resources. As a former teacher, a taxpayer, a member of the community and a grandmother, I take issue with the expense of the School Vault. When personnel and programs to directly serve children are eliminated to fund such a dubious enterprise, it is time to raise some real questions about the kind of leadership our district has.
I would like to urge the school board to step back and take a good look at what is really going on in our school district. Be aware that teachers are being intimidated and told to keep their opinions and concerns around these issues to themselves. Those who do not play by the administrative “rules” are being unfairly punished, often covertly.
We need a new order in the top levels of our school district. We are hungry for a superintendent who is an instructional leader rather than a “data” manager, who welcomes input and dialogue from all invested parties and who will return autonomy and dignity to teachers and students.
Betsy Kimmick is retired from a career as a teacher spanning nearly 30 years, most recently 17 years at Durango’s Riverview school. Reach her at email@example.com.