Be Prepared, Not Scared

Two things have recently happened at my house: the realization that the school year is nearly over and beginning of panic because of End of Grade Tests or EOGs. Around my house, as the school year winds down, test anxiety ramps up. This year, I have one child who will be taking the EOGs and one that will take high school EOC (End of Course) tests. My sixth grader will make sure to complete all of the extra worksheets, log onto to her online account to log extra practice time, get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast the night before the tests. She has been programmed to think that these tests are so important that they surpass any other learning that is done throughout the school year. The whole school comes to a screeching halt. Teachers stop whatever they’ve been teaching and start the painful process of reviewing. Last year, my daughter had hours worth of worksheets to do so that they would be caught up and have studied all that could potentially be on the EOG.

EOGs are required by the state and they supposedly help teachers and schools determine whether students are learning properly. All students in grades 3 through 8 take End of Grade tests. The test is supposed to show if students can read, write, and understand math and science on grade level. Student growth is measured against a student’s performance from the previous year. These tests compare students statewide to make sure that teachers, students, and, ultimately, schools are meeting state standards. Schools are required to test at least 95% of students. The State Board of Education is required to “award school achievement, growth, and performance scores and an associated performance grade” to each school that administers these tests. Schools are given a ‘School Performance Grade’ as part of the ‘Accountability Growth’ measure. Growth scores are based on a composite index score. A final score and grade is calculated by combining the ‘School Achievement Score’ and the ‘Growth score.’ School designations including: School of Excellence, School of Distinction, School of Progress, Priority School, or Low Performing School are given based on the results of these tests. Does your brain hurt reading this? Mine does.

I would argue that these tests simply show which students have mastered the art of the test. And which students have economic and social advantages.

Parents are told that teachers can use EOG scores to adjust teaching so that the student can be more successful. I’m not sure how soon teachers get test results for students, but as parents we don’t receive this information until after the beginning of the following school year. In my opinion, that’s too late. Students have already been placed in classes for a new year and have new teachers. Let’s be honest, these tests aren’t ultimately for students at all.

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by veteran teacher Wendi Pillars. She teaches ESL in a rural high-poverty school in NC. You can read the rest of her letter here: Teacher To 3rd Graders: I Apologize for Having to ‘Quantify You With a Number.’

Dear third graders in North Carolina,

I want to apologize.

I want to say I’m sorry for the academic pressures you feel as eight and nine year olds. I know you are nervous about the End of Grade (EOG) test you keep hearing about—it’s unlike anything you’ve ever encountered, and it seems so important to so many people to quantify you with a number.

I want to apologize for the 54 mini-tests you are required to take between now and the EOGs  because of Read to Achieve laws. Your parents may not know this, but these tests will cause us to lose a tremendous amount of instructional time—time when you and I could be reading together, exploring ideas, and finding innovative ways to communicate your new knowledge to others.

When you take these mini-tests, I cannot tell you what you missed, what the correct answers were, or delve into your thinking. But I will look you in the eye and tell you whether you passed or not. And when I do…

I want to apologize for how few hands-on projects and extra resources I am able to pull into our classroom. The extra testing is taking up precious planning, collaboration and preparation time—which now must be spent making test copies, stapling them, scoring, then storing them securely, as if your future depended on them.

I want you to know that I am so proud of you for persevering and for so many of you continuing to try your ding dang best.

Students deserve the chance to understand that learning is more than taking tests. It is so much more than any test can possibly measure. Learning is about asking questions, doing your best, and being curious. I understand that we need to know whether students are gaining the knowledge that they need. We need a way to measure whether teachers, schools, and curricula are effective. But I can’t say that I agree with what testing has done to education and to students’ love of learning.

My second grader isn’t at all interested in moving on to 3rd grade.

“I don’t want to go to third grade,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. “You love school.”

He replied, “because third grade means testing–and I hate that.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

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2 Responses to Be Prepared, Not Scared

  1. Annie R says:

    Thank you for sharing your post! I wholeheartedly agree, tests ultimately are not for the students. Reading the letter you included broke my heart. It’s incredibly worrisome to think about how many students are beginning to feel the stress of standardized tests, or have accepted such testing and the accompanied stress as normal. Looking back at my own experiences in K-12, it troubles me to think how quickly testing and testing prep became common place. It was not until my last couple of years of high school that I heard my teachers vocalize their frustrations with the testing system. I wonder how many of my former teachers wished they could have told me the same things that were written in the letter. Your post strengthens my belief that the amount of testing, testing prep, and the emphasis on the importance of tests needs to decrease in K-12 education. I can never get back the hours of my life devoted to tests, but I hope students will soon not have to deal with such unnecessary stress.

    Like

  2. sydneymitchell17 says:

    This is such a great post! Thank you for sharing it. I can 100% relate to your children and their fear of testing and the anxiety and stress that comes with going into the 3rd grade. I really wish someone had told me what you just wrote in your letter. It is such a difficult time and it is almost programmed in my mind as well as the minds of all North Carolinian elementary and middle school minds. There has to be a way to decrease the amount of testing required of our students. This isn’t healthy at all. I hope that one day the amount of testing and stress associated with that testing will eventually dissipate and that students in the future will not lose as much time as I and many students lost to test prep and testing itself.

    Like

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