Teachers and Tests…Scandals and Surveillance

Yesterday, the story broke: widespread irregularities in standardized test scores in Georgia schools.

As an educator, this breaks my heart. It doesn’t make my profession look ethical or responsible. I have no idea what happened, and I hope there is a reasonable explanation for these problems. But when I think about the remedies that are being recommended for these issues, I cringe.

Because of testing irregularities, our governor is calling for a detailed analysis of the results and considering more monitoring of testing in sites suspected of cheating. That may all sound great, until we remember that budgets are falling.  Class sizes are likely going up, educators (including several of my colleagues) are being fired or reshuffled, and Perdue suggests test score analyses and on-site monitoring of testing, which will surely cost money. Really?

We are on a path toward relaxing expenditure controls so that library programs and professional development don’t have to be directly funded. But our governor can consider further funding for the testing industry, which already takes up too much of our education budget? Instead of ensuring learning opportunities for educators and updated library materials, two expenditures that might boost scores and give teachers the support they need to teach, Perdue wants us to consider investing in people who watch kids take tests and ensure that teachers handle the test forms ethically?

Mr. Perdue, how about reconsidering the unreasonable expectations that may tempt honorable people to compromise their integrity? We don’t know yet what happened, but it does not take a genius to see that the testing pressure is breaking our education system; indeed, it is breaking many of our educators themselves. They don’t have to cheat for us to know it is broken. The fact that irregularities lead so quickly to suspicion tells us enough.

And our governor thinks tying teacher pay to test scores is going to be a positive change? Will tying our livelihoods to test scores create less temptation to cheat? I wonder if Mr. Perdue would have passed a standardized test in inductive logic.

Shifting gears to my parent self, this quote from the article linked above also fascinated me…

Ben Scafidi, director of the nonprofit Center for an Educated Georgia in Norcross, said the findings are likely to upset parents.

“I’m a parent, I’m mortified,” said Scafidi, who has two children in public schools. “I think parents are very concerned about how their children do on the CRCT, and now they don’t know how their children are doing.”

I’m surprised that the reason Mr. Scafidi was upset was not because of the possible unethical behavior of teachers or administrators, or the testing mania that created this mess, but rather because without CRCT scores, we don’t know how our kids are doing.

Do we have to wait for a sheet with bar graphs and numbers on it to know how our kids are doing? Is that what we have come to? I sit down with my Kindergartner and read with her almost daily.  I know how she is doing. I talk to my children’s teachers often, who also help me know how they are doing. I check my children’s schoolwork and homework, I talk to them about what is happening in school, and I encourage them. I know much more about how they are doing from our daily interactions and communicating with their teachers than from their CRCT scores. Their CRCT scores may give me a fine-grained analysis of whether or not my daughter has mastered punctuation, but it doesn’t tell me if she loves writing, or enjoys learning. By no means does that test alone tell me how my kids are doing.

Most parents I speak to don’t feel this way either. Parents are concerned about the tests because it represents so much of what their kids are taught, unfortunately. Our students have internalized the rhetoric of testing. Parents also know that the tests can be used to make decisions about their children’s education. So, they have to pay attention. Tests matter because we have made them matter, not necessarily because they tell us something critically and infallibly important about our kids and their learning.

Parents are also concerned about tests because they see their kids getting sick before test days. Kids grow sleepless, nauseous, anxious, ill. I hope, when the state starts selecting monitors for the testing sites under scrutiny, they include “cleaning up after sick kids” in the job description, because the increased pressure will only trickle down to the teachers, and then the kids. I, for one, am already sick about it.

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5 Responses to “Teachers and Tests…Scandals and Surveillance”


  1. 1 T. Williamson 02.13.2010 at 4:57 am

    Thank-you Beth, for writing this. It really encapsulates what I bet a lot of people are feeling, myself included. I agree with you, and especially liked what you had to say about how we, as parents, know how our kids are doing; the ways you described give a much better picture of how they are doing than one standardized test score possibly can. You stated that “our students have internalized the rhetoric of testing” and a perfect sad example of that happened when I was teaching a middle school lesson on informational text, and I asked the students why they they thought language arts was important for them to learn, and the response I got from one student was “for the CRTC!” I feel that the overemphasis on these tests as be-all and end-all definitive assessments as opposed to snapshot approximations of one dimension of learning,has the potential to remove the joy and internal reward from learning.

    • 2 Beth 02.13.2010 at 5:59 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment!
      What a great example. I can’t help but think we’ve lost our way when I hear that the kids think they are learning just to pass tests, not because they are learning something that is valuable for their lives in the world. It just frustrates me endlessly. I hope change is on the horizon. I wish that incidents like these would make us rethink the whole thing instead of just add more rules and restrictions…

  2. 3 Jackie Alden 02.13.2010 at 11:45 pm

    I love how you captured how I was feeling about this. You put it into words I hadn’t thought of. It is sickening what is happening and sad at the same time. I worry about the future of our students if testing becomes more of burden and it will if teachers pay is tied to it. Thanks for posting this! I hope we can get back to instilling a love of learning into our children and not just cramming to get the right test scores out of them.

  3. 4 Ronnie Miller 02.25.2010 at 12:25 am

    Chapter 1
    I felt that this chapter was written about me. I love to write but my grammar stinks. Since I was not an avid reader in school it shows in my day to day conversations and in my writings. I feel I get my point across in my writings but when I get my papers back after they have been graded it looks like the teacher threw up on it. The list of errors in the chapter would be very useful to hang up as a poster in my classroom to help remind my students.
    Chapter 2
    My wife has been a big influence on my grammar and helping me with all the rules. I think I am finally getting used to looking for the same errors that I constantly make over and over. The one thing that she has in common with this chapter is how important it is to read your writing out loud. This technique works wonders for me. I get to hear how stupid I am it’s great. You know what would be nice if I could get graded on how I use curse words. That is something I can excel in.

    Anderson, pages 27-59

    Reading the title of chapter 3, I immediately thought of Atwell and the writing workshops we learned about so extensively from her. I expected the chapter to be mostly about how to work mini lessons of grammar into your writing workshops, but I stumbled across another topic I found interesting. The rules Anderson set up for the Writer’s Notebook stumped me. Mostly, I was concerned with the specifics of writing only on the right hand side of the pages. This reminded me of the topic you mentioned for a diversity project of left handed people and the bias against them (you mentioned someone had chosen this topic before). I thought how this was very restrictive of students who are left-handed. Anyway, I was also thinking that he only requires that the students leave one page for redrafting or tinkering with their writing. I thought if I were going to make notebooks, instead of using the typical Mead notebooks, perhaps I would use a small three ring binder with notebook paper. That way, the students could continuously redraft their pieces even after they move on to another one. Also, in terms of numbering the pages, the student could just put the sticky note on the actual pages to read (like a tab). I guess I was just thinking of how I could cater the idea to something that I felt was more conducive to other ideas I have learned.
    Chapter 3
    I loved how detailed the writer is about the writers notebook. I think it is important to set the students up with a resource like this. It is very structured and will be a very effective tool in their writing process. Seeing how this is set up you can tell that the teacher is very serious about it. I am also a big fan of wall charts. I can’t even tell you how many times I was taking a test or doing some work in school and I would have a brain fart and forget something simple. While I would look around the room to try to remember I would look up at the wall and the answer would be staring me right in the face. Awesome!!!

  4. 5 Ronnie Miller 02.25.2010 at 12:29 am

    sorry i had to post on this blog. I must say that I had a big debate about this last Thursday night in my ESOC class. I was the only one in class who was for Merit Pay. I cant wait to talk about it tomorrow.


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