March 14, 2022

Mercedes Schneider: Overtesting Season Is Upon Us

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Teacher, writer and researcher Mercedes Schneider blogs about entering that dreadful Season of The Test that rolls around every spring. Reposted with permission. 

Overtesting season is upon us. What does that mean, really?

Well, it means that like K12 schools across the nation, we are reaching the culmination of test prep, of focusing not on the joy of learning but on passing the standardized tests (many tests, not just a sensible sampling of student achievement at the occasional grade level), of navigating testing formats, the wording of test directions, and of following directions no matter how complicated or foreign to common sense.

Why are we doing this?

Well, the short of it is that testing is now embedded in federal and state legislation governing schools. Those in positions of power– who are too often removed from any consequence produced by legislating overtesting– have fallen for the idea that standardized testing produces easy-to-publish numeric results by which K12 education can and should be judged. Therefore, (tongue in cheek) annual overtesting in K12 classrooms must be done. That is it. It is not that teachers need these test results to inform their teaching. The immediacy of the classroom is much more informative, logically so, since teachers interact with my students daily. It is also not that parents need test results to know what is going on with their children’s educations. I have yet to meet the parent who foregoes checking grades weekly or examining quarterly report cards in favor of waiting for a standardized testing report that is often made available near or after the associated school year ends.

As for the school year “ending,” for all practical purposes, the school year “ends” with the end of the third quarter, when testing season begins in the spring. All of the rest becomes a scramble to accommodate testing; to shift teachers and classes around and disrupt school day after school day (both during testing and prior to testing to pre-bubble and conduct checks and run-thrus prior to actual testing days), all the while throwing authentic teaching and learning out of the window for weeks and weeks.

Is standardized testing instituted to guarantee that students are being taught? Well, the great irony here is that overtesting smothers the student’s potential to maximize genuine learning in favor of a shallower goal of mastering a standardized test. The fixation on overtesting replaces curiosity and joy with pressure and fear on many levels, including the shadow that the test is the end-all, be-all, and that other classroom experiences pale in comparison to the mandatory passing of the standardized test; the pressure on teachers to have students pass for fear of negative evaluations or job loss; the pressure on administrators to score at certain levels in order to have the school receive a high letter grade in order to avoid loss of job, loss of funding for the school or outright dissolution of the school itself.

The outsized role of standardized testing in the K12 classroom means that breadth curriculum will narrow as it, too, succumbs to test-prep activity. Once standardized testing becomes the center of education, that testing not only loses its originally-intended value as simply one modest component to inform regarding student aptitude or achievement, but also, test-centrism actually destroys the quality– the possibility– of offering students a multifaceted educational experience. Non-tested subjects become less valued and are either scrapped entirely or made into an anemic version of what they once were as their funding and classroom time are diverted to feed seemingly-insatiable, overtesting neediness.

America’s K12 classrooms are overdue to begin shifting to grade-span testing and return the school year back to four quarters of actual teaching and learning, not three quarters of sort-of teaching squeezed into corners by domineering test prep followed by a final quarter of Overtesting Season.

As it stands, if you’re searching for that “lost learning,” you can easily find that elephant in the K12 room, especially visible every spring.

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