By Jeremy Hyler
I find myself in front of 7th and 8th graders each day, trying to make a positive impact on their personal and academic lives. In today’s world, standardized testing does have an impact on me as a teacher. Now I am on the opposite end of the spectrum from when I was a student. I am aware of the impacts a standardized test has on the school where I teach, me as the teacher, and our entire community. Dejectedly, I am also keenly aware of the effects these tests have on my students. As test dates are set, I begin to have flashbacks to when I was their age.
When I was in high school, I dreaded the days when we took standardized tests. The day before, the teachers would insist that we get a good night’s sleep and eat a satisfying breakfast. At the time, it was essential to do well because if you didn’t, you didn’t get a state-endorsed diploma. A state-endorsed diploma meant I received a gold sticker for passing the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (M.E.A.P). The most engaging conversation I ever had about the MEAP was when my parents explained to me that the numbers on the paper I received in the mail qualified me to get that gold sticker. Not once did a teacher ever explain the importance of the test, nor did we ever go over anything from the test after results were released. Furthermore, as a student, I never paid much attention to the direct impact on my school.
I know my classmates, like me, didn’t fully comprehend the idea of what kind of impact a standardized test was going to have on a teacher. Having pride in our school in connection with standardized testing was nonexistent. Pride was something you had when you played a football or basketball game and you did your best to beat the other team, not being competent on the test in front of you.
Now that I’m a teacher, I realize even more that school pride isn’t often connected with testing. More and more, tests scores are being published in local and state newspapers, and if students don’t do well, they aren’t exactly going to feel good about themselves. Their confidence is going to plummet even further, and this can potentially have a long term impact on how they perform further in school.
On the other hand, student confidence levels could soar, along with test scores, if they were given opportunities to be creative on such assessments. Standardized testing does not allow for this. Students are asked to spit out their knowledge through multiple choice questions or by trying to produce a piece of polished writing in an allotted amount of time. At times, students are asked to go through the entire writing process–planning, drafting, revising, editing–in 30 minutes. In addition, students can only physically write a paper; they can’t demonstrate their knowledge through any other mode except the written essay. Students should be able to create and produce poems, book trailers, comic strips, or any other means to demonstrate what they know. Not all students think the same way or even learn the same way. So why are we asking every student to produce the same thing?
Politicians, test makers, or any other stakeholders who think students take pride in their standardized testing as the end all, be all for measuring student growth don’t consider individual students, who they truly are or where they come from.
Furthermore, each student is going to feel different on any given day they are tested based on other outside forces. By picking a time frame for taking standardized tests, it doesn’t address the individual problems each student can have. For example, nutrition can be a factor when it comes to test days. Not every child eats a hearty breakfast. On test days I have witnessed students walking through the door with a Mountain Dew and bag of doughnut holes–not exactly the breakfast of champions.
My student days are past, and I have put myself in the very position that my teachers were in when I was taking the dreaded M.E.A.P. test. What has changed is the impact standardized testing has. Today, my students’ standardized test scores–regardless of the problems they may be facing outside the classroom–have a direct impact on me as a teacher and whether or not I keep my job. Furthermore, I am more aware of the impacts a standardized test has on the school where I teach and our entire community. More importantly, I am keenly aware of the effects these tests have on my students; their individuality, creativity, voice, and abilities.
As a student, I was not scared of standardized tests because they weren’t going to change the course I was headed on at all. I did my best at the time. To me, my job as a student was to sit there, keep my mouth shut, and take the test; no matter what was going on at home or in my personal life. Yet, testing was never at the forefront of my brain. I was more interested in playing basketball and wondering if anyone was going to go to the dance with me. It isn’t any different today with the students I stand in front of when proctoring another standardized test. Each student is their own individual dealing with their own issues. Our students have begun to associate school with taking numerous assessments. School should be a place where students can participate in authentic assessments and authentic writing, not a place where they are given test after test.
Jeremy Hyler is the co-author of Create, Compose, Connect: Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools. You can follow Jeremy on twitter @jeremybballer.