Earlier this year, Coweta County teacher Susan Barber garnered a lot of attention for a letter she wrote Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods about how much time testing stole away from teaching.
In response, Woods invited Barber to serve on his Teachers Advisory Council to provide feedback on how state rules and policy impact Georgia classrooms. Barber chairs the English department at Northgate High School in Newnan.
Today, Barber again tackles high-stakes testing as she prepares to administer the Georgia Milestones End of Course Tests to students on block schedules.
This essay is from Barber’s Teach with Class blog, which is worth adding to your bookmarks.
By Susan Barber
The Georgia Milestones begin today in my school, and I am reminded once again of how today’s education system is being driven by money and political agendas. I consider myself to be a positive person – the glass is always more than half full, the sun will come out tomorrow, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade – but there is no positive spin to put on the amount of standardized testing that today’s student must complete.
I want to be on record saying that I love teaching. The best way I can describe teaching is like how Sam Baldwin in “Sleepless in Seattle” describes falling in love with his wife: to him meeting her was “like coming home” and “it was like magic.” I know some readers think comparing a job to falling in love is absurd, but teachers wired like me are nodding their heads just thinking about being at home in their classroom with the magic happening. Standardized testing, however, makes me and my students feel like aliens far from home in a place without magic. Some days this makes me sad. Other days this makes me mad. Most days it makes me both.
If testing only took away the actual testing time, that would be enough cause for concern, but our students are robbed in so many other ways. Testing robs students of their teachers’ time as we go to countless (and this is no hyperbole) mandatory test training meetings — hour after hour, semester after semester, year after year of time wasted. In addition to training, the administration of tests costs time. I will spend 4.5 hours over the next few days testing and proctoring students who I don’t even teach. In 4.5 hours, I could offer feedback on approximately four class sets of essays and plan a week’s worth of lessons for the two sections I teach. I doubt anyone would argue what would be more beneficial to students.
In addition to wasted teacher time, testing also robs administrators and counselors as well as county and state level employees from the ability to contribute meaningful work in education. I work with smart people who are passionate about students and education yet devote weeks to making test schedules, counting tests, and showing state PowerPoint presentations on test administration. None of these people sat in their graduate courses dreaming of doing such mundane tasks.
Just think what could be accomplished if these people were devoting weeks of time to solving problems in our schools, helping teachers implement research-based instructional strategies, or developing school-wide curriculum plans. This is the equivalent of the Braves having Freddie Freeman sell concessions during a game which would never be allowed to happen, but it happens every day in our schools. What a waste of manpower hours, mental ability, and passion for the next generation. Once again, what’s best for students loses out to testing.
The biggest losers, however, are our students. Not only are students robbed of teachers, administrators, and counselors who cannot fully focus on them, but they are also robbed of resources. All of our computers and media center will be devoted to testing over the next couple of weeks. The standards, which I am required to teach, expect students to use digital platforms, create digital presentations, and research on a regular basis, but the resources allocated for this are off-limit to students during testing season.
And computer labs are not just affected on testing days. Labs are tested ahead of time to make sure they can handle WiFi demands, and while we do not teach to the test, test prep must be done with students during class time so they are familiar with the format of the test and have the ability to use the digital tools within the test. The amount of money spent on testing is a discussion all by itself as testing has become big business. Once again, nonsense wins out in education at the expense of what is best for our students.
I want my blog to be a positive voice in today’s society; however, I cannot advocate for students without addressing standardized testing. Parents, as well as teachers, must make their voices known on this issue at the state and federal level. Let teachers be teachers, not testers and let students be learners, not a test score.