Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Big Testing Monster

Over the years, testing and the issues associated with testing, have consistently remained in the news.  The most prevalent testing story in the news this week is that of cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools.  In Atlanta the cheating was not only widespread, but carried out by teachers and administrators.  The entire school system had a culture in which rising test scores was rewarded by high level administrators, any evidence of cheating was ignored (sometimes even hidden) and whistle-blowers were reprimanded.  Shocking?  Perhaps, but this has happened or is alleged to have happened in other school systems like Chicago and Washington DC.  Some point toward Campbell's Law and the natural tendency toward corruption when quantitative indicators are used to monitor social processes.

Testing places incredible stress on schools.  In most schools everything and everyone is scheduled around testing.  It is priority number one.  Teachers stop teaching if their students have an exam.  The entire school has to cease any noisy lessons so as not to disturb the students taking tests.  God forbid you need the school psychologist, assistant principal or guidance counselor during that time.  They are busy proctoring exams for students requiring accommodations.  The school secretary is completely stressed trying to keep track of every single test booklet and tracking down students absent on testing days.  The principal is stressed because these tests are the main way that he/she is judged by parents, future parents and the central administration.  The superintendent is stressed because parents are worried, not on how their children will do necessarily, but on how the results will effect their property values.  And sometimes the students feel incredible stress, depending on how the school handles the situation.  Some students get butterflies, cannot sleep and worry about "passing".  I am not trying to make excuses but simply point out that the system places stress on those working in the schools and beyond.  (Just an aside, the integrity of those of I have worked with is beyond reproach.)  

The tests are supposed to be for the benefit of the students, but so much energy is placed on the administration of the tests and the end results, the best interest of the students sometimes get lost along the way.  In Atlanta, this certainly happened.  Many students in need of remedial services did not receive those services because their "fake" test scores made them ineligible.  Sad indeed.

I often think that we are trapped in this system and cannot find a way out.  There is an incredible demand for accountability, but no one seems to know how else to place checks and balances on public schools.  I am not exactly sure what the answer is and may want to explore the options in other blog posts, but I know the current system is flawed in multiple ways.  I think Atlanta is evidence of exactly how flawed. 

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