(/iStock)

Many teachers today talk about how classroom life has changed in the era of high-stakes standardized tests, with “teaching to the test” — or, at least, teaching concentrated on making sure kids pass the test — creating a more rigid and less creative dynamic than before. But how does that actually look in a classroom? Here’s a post by a veteran teacher providing details. It was written by Matt Jablonski, who has been teaching U.S. history at Elyria High School in Ohio for the past 16 years. Here are comments he submitted to the Ohio Senate Advisory Committee on Testing, which has this as its charge, according to the panel’s webpage:

Senate members have heard concerns from parents, educators and other stakeholders about state student assessments and their administration. Legitimate concerns have been raised both about the current state assessments as well as Ohio’s overall testing policies. With this in mind, the Senate President created the Senate Advisory Committee on Testing. The immediate charge of the committee will be to review and evaluate the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers) math and English language arts state assessments and the AIR (American Institute for Research) science and social studies state assessments and provide advice to the Senate as to whether Ohio should consider alternative tests and/or make specific modifications to the tests for the next school year. The committee will also explore whether or not the quantity of testing currently being conducted in Ohio classrooms is out of balance with time students are engaged in active learning.
  This appeared on Jablonski’s blog in early April, and I am republishing it with permission. Here are the comments he submitted to the committee:
I am a 16th-year American History teacher at Elyria High School in Elyria, Ohio. For the last 10 years, I have spent my career as an educator preparing students for the Ohio Graduation Test according to the mandates in No Child Left Behind. The law was designed to provide data to assure success by all children through school improvement, and bridge the so-called “achievement gap.” Like most standardized tests, they have been most successful at indicating the economic standing of the student being tested.
Furthermore, the “achievement gap” has not been bridged, and the test scores have been used to shut down schools in poor communities in favor of charter schools that have been, in many cases, less effective. Ohio had implemented more assessments than necessary under NCLB, and now with 10 years of proof that a system of standardized testing is not working, we have begun the process of implementing a far more intrusive, academically inappropriate system of assessments through PARCC and AIR. I am guessing that the logic here reads something like “if the previous testing didn’t resolve the issues, then certainly more testing will do the trick.” As an educator, I disagree, and believe that this new system does a great disservice to our children.
When legislators hear an educator come out in opposition to standardized tests, the assumption is that the educator must oppose being held accountable for their work. I would like to assure the committee that this is not the case. As a professional, I welcome my administrators and others into my classroom, and am open to discussion of my teaching process, and through analysis and reflection I am also open to my development as a teacher. If your belief holds that the only true measure of a teacher’s ability is a standardized test (which statisticians and other experts in the field of education and assessment completely disagree with), then you can check Ohio’s data for my students on the Social Studies OGT [Ohio Graduation Test] and see that they have been very successful.
The reality here is that even having found success within this system of assessments, I have consistently disagreed with that system. While the OGT/OAA [Ohio Graduation Test/Ohio Achievement Assessment] is far less intrusive and time consuming than the atrocious new model, it still created a culture of assessment in our schools.
What I mean here is that in any grade assessed, in a high-stakes situation or not, the tests themselves have driven classroom practice.
Essay writing cannot be thoughtful and expansive, it has to be modeled after state test assessments to assure success. Classroom resources are not chosen by teachers for their appropriateness or ability to spark student interest, nor for their relevance to their community. They’re chosen for the degree to which they reflect the resources students will encounter on a standardized test. Review of sample questions is an ongoing process, that overwhelms the weeks just prior to the assessments. “Just teaching” students is impossible as non-proficient students need to be made proficient, and those proficient need to rate at the higher levels of accelerated and advanced in order to satisfy the state report cards.
These are but a few examples of the manner in which the former system sucked the life out of the school day. Schools and teachers have struggled to motivate students and spark interest and connections to content because the system of assessments came to dictate all decisions. Ultimately, students have suffered the most, seeing their natural curiosity stifled, and losing a sense of the fun that is learning.
And now we have undertaken a system that is far more intrusive, far more time-consuming, and overall far more developmentally inappropriate. In schools across Ohio, the performance-based assessment testing window spanned February and March. Schools implemented weeks of late arrival for some students, or integrated testing in the school day, removing students randomly from instruction time to complete assessments. One AP History teacher I spoke to said that she didn’t even see one of her class periods for 2 weeks.
Upon our return from spring break, the End of Year or End of Course testing window will open, spanning the better part of April and most of May. Again, students will be removed from instruction in order to be assessed. This is not just an issue with PARCC, as most current legislation has attempted to address. The issue also involves, or will involve, the social studies and science tests created to be “PARCC-like” assessments by the American Institutes for Research. Whether it is PARCC or AIR, this system of a double testing window is far too intrusive and time consuming. It forces two periods of test review, instead of one, and its scheduling disrupts instruction time from February through May, essentially the entire second semester. The former system lasted a week in most cases.
If you’d like students to learn, then give us more time to teach. Thank you for your consideration.