That Unfortunate Rite of Spring

Seasonal allergies dampen the enjoyment of spring for many people, as they battle runny noses and hay fever throughout March, April and May.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have seasonal allergies.  I can enjoy the beautiful spring weather in Ohio, when it’s not snowing or raining.  I can put the top down on my Mustang and drive to the park, without the aid of Zyrtec, Claritin or Kleenexes.

Unfortunately, though, my enjoyment of spring is not all that it should be.  It’s not reduced by bad weather or a stuffy head.   It’s not reduced by something that occurs naturally, like rag weed or pollen.

There’s something unnatural that creeps into my life every spring, ruining my mood on perfectly good spring days.  That something is standardized testing.

The crinkling sound of carefully-counted, shrink-wrapped answer documents makes me cringe.  The cluster of number 2, non-mechanical pencils makes me wince.

Those who have never had the pleasure of being a part of this standardized testing spring ritual may wonder why I have so strong an aversion to the process.  After all, aren’t these tests important to measure student growth?  Don’t these tests make public schools accountable?

No.

It would be great if these tests did measure student growth and increase accountability. Instead, these tests disenfranchise students and teachers and disrupt the educational process.

Students take plenty of tests they don’t like, but tests like the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) are particularly loathsome. In the weeks leading up to the tests, teachers often shift the focus from progress through the course curriculum, to OGT test preparation.  Teachers are not giving the students the answers to the OGT, but they are giving test-taking strategies, explaining the format and showing practice tests from the ODE website.  The lessons can be tedious, and students have a hard time understanding the point behind such lessons.  After all, if I am teaching a persuasive writing unit where students compose essays about topics that are relevant to them, they are learning writing skills and are motivated to express their feelings.  However, when I am showing them how to pick the correct usage of a semicolon, using grammar rules provided on the OGT test, they are just plain bored.

Students are also disenfranchised when they actually take the standardized tests.  Every morning, they come into a classroom test site, where a teacher will drone on, using the OGT script of instructions that must be followed.  The students must work in unison, to fill out their testing documents, even though they are well-versed in filling in the bubbles.  As the students take the test, they can not have a bottle of water out, to sip through the two to three hours of testing.  They can’t work on homework or listen to music if they complete the test early.  They can’t even amuse themselves by reading the information on bulletin boards, because the boards are covered, so as not to give away any hints that might be of use on the tests.

My colleagues and I are disenfranchised too.  We realize how much weight these tests carry on the district report card and are frustrated by all the things they don’t take into consideration.  The test results don’t consider the students who transfer in from another district weeks before the high stakes tests are given.  Whether they are proficient or not has little or nothing to do with the instruction they received in my district, but their scores count for my school district’s report card.

We are also disenfranchised as we deal with the upheaval created by the week or two of high stakes testing.  At the high school, we change our schedule to dedicate the first two hours of the day to testing and we shorten our classes to about 30 minutes each.  We move our classes to different places in the building, so we can have an isolated quiet testing zone for those students requiring extended test taking time.  We refrain from giving our standard homework assignments and don’t give tests, as we don’t want to overload the kids and adversely impact their test scores.

The biggest reason that I dislike these tests is that they don’t measure the things that matter most to me and most of my colleagues.  While I certainly place emphasis on teaching my students how to write good essays and analyze literature, what’s far more important to me is that my students are emotionally healthy and well-adjusted.  I take far more pride knowing that I helped a student through a difficult time in his/her life with sound advice, than I ever would from seeing a student get “accelerated” on his Ohio Graduation Test in Reading.

Thankfully, testing season is over for another year.  Like allergy season, unfortunately, it will be back again next year.  Allergy sufferers hope that medical breakthroughs will provide them relief.  Teachers hope that more accurate and effective ways to measure student achievement will be implemented.  Until that time comes, we will do our best to endure the rag weed, pollen and standardized tests that weigh us down on otherwise beautiful spring days.

By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association

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