Are we using scare tactics to pressure kids to perform better on state tests?

The state is outpacing the nation on the average ACT score.

DeKalb parent Patti Ghezzi addresses an issue many parents have experienced firsthand: Children fearful and nervous they’ll be held back because they don’t perform well on state reading and math exams.

Georgia Department of Education policy links promotion in third, fifth and eighth grade to performance on the Milestone tests. This is not DOE or state Board of Education policy but a state law. Despite the law, retention is unusual.

The vast majority of students who fail gateway-year exams still go onto the next grade anyway. For example, of the state’s 9,500 eighth-graders who couldn’t pass the state math exam in 2007, 92 percent were promoted.

Do students know retention is rare or are they terrified they could flub the test and stay back? Do kids need to believe there are ominous consequences so they’ll approach state tests seriously?

Ghezzi says even children at little risk of failing still get stressed because of the scary spectre of retention. A former education journalist, Ghezzi now works in university communications. (Ghezzi covered education for the AJC from 1997 to 2006.)  She wrote this essay to present to the state Board of Education and state school chief, but never got the opportunity.

By Patti Ghezzi

Good morning, Georgia Board of Education members and Superintendent Richard Woods:

I am here as a parent of a fourth-grader to express dismay about Milestones testing and its negative impact on classrooms, families and students. These negative effects seem to offset any purported benefits. While I have many concerns, I would like to address the disingenuous way the tests are framed to students.

Most third-grade students and parents think failing the Milestones means failing the grade and having to repeat. This fills students and parents with fear and anxiety. They believe this because this is what they’ve been told by educators they trust. The truth is more complicated, but the truth could alleviate stress and help kids perform better. The truth is that failing the Milestones means the opportunity to get extra help during the summer and then a retest. The truth is that parents have the right to appeal retention, and in that case a committee meets to determine what is best for the child. The truth is that retaining students in grades three and higher is rare. The vast majority get to move on.

I assume the lie of automatic retention got started as a way to scare kids into working hard and taking the test seriously, but I have witnessed the opposite. Several of my child’s friends were stressed out to the point of illness and emotional distress. Yet these children are good students, who were never in any danger of retention.

The school climate during Milestones season is insane. Real learning grinds to a halt and is replaced with test prep and high anxiety. The perception of high stakes is an enormous contributor this pressure-cooker environment.

Please, can we be honest with children and parents about the consequences of failing the test? And while we’re at it, can we be honest about how these tests are graded?

For as hard as our children work to prepare for the tests and learn the highly particular way they are supposed to answer constructed response and essay questions, the state promises a tight turnaround with grading. I cannot imagine graders are able to spend more than a few seconds assessing each answer. We let these flawed, difficult-to-administer tests take over our schools and our lives, and then we are supposed to accept without question that they have been correctly graded?

I have always viewed education trends as a pendulum that reaches a peak and swings back. But this pendulum seems stuck because no one in power is willing to acknowledge what a disaster it all is. We have been grinding away at accountability for at least 10 years, and we have so little to show for it.

Unless you are a testing company. In that case, these have surely been banner years. Yet so little is expected of the testing companies, relative to how much is expected of our teachers and our students. There seems to be so little accountability on the test company’s end. They just apologize for their errors, promise to do better and keep on collecting taxpayer money. We’re supposed to suck it up and deal with the test’s flaws, while testing companies get endless do-overs to try to get it right.

As a parent looking in, it appears the testing companies are leading our education leaders around on a leash.

The negative impact of high-stakes testing in the classroom is widespread, the result of directives pushed down from the top. My Gwinnett County friend found in her third-grade daughter’s backpack a test on how to take a standardized test. A DeKalb County friend reported that recess, a stress reliever, vanished for her stressed-out third-grader during the Milestones.

The accountability model is pushed on schools, and teachers are left to figure out how to implement the model, often on top of special programs their school offers, such as International Baccalaureate or STEM. It’s not working. I realize your job is to set policy, but please take a look at how testing policies have influenced teaching and learning.

Please take a hard look at what’s going on in Georgia classrooms, assume responsibility for this situation and make spring a season of learning and growing, not fretting and crying.

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

73 comments
class80olddog
class80olddog

Ladies and gentlemen, Ed Johnson has just introduced us to the latest flavor of the month: childhood agency! The latest voodoo sociology that is guaranteed to eliminate absenteeism, quell all disciplinary actions, and create whiter teeth at the same time. Step right up and get your bottle today- a bargain at only $1 million!

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@class80olddog

The competitive drive that underlies your response, here, will be quite apparent to many.  Believe me, it will.  What might help you?  Perhaps a coming-to-terms with childhood agency lost?

class80olddog
class80olddog

"The U.S. Education Department reports that the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high at 80 percent. Four out of five students are successful in studies completion and graduate within four years. While these statistics sound like a reason for a standing ovation, they are overshadowed by the crisis that is sweeping the United States. While 80 percent of high school seniors receive a diploma, less than half of those are able to proficiently read or complete math problems.

The problem is that students are being passed on to the next grade when they should be held back, and then they are unable to complete grade-level work and keep up with their classmates.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest standardized test administered in the United States, reports that fewer than 40 percent of graduating seniors have mastered reading and math and are poorly equipped for college and real world life. These students who are passed to the next grade are at a serious disadvantage and have an increased chance of falling behind and dropping out of college." From Education Week

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog


I have presented, over and over again on this blog, an alternative to retention as a means of increasing the literacy of students.  However. . . .


"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend."  Henri Bergson

class80olddog
class80olddog

Funny how no schools have implemented your "expert" suggestions.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Students MUST have "some skin in the game" or else testing results do not mean anything. If the tests were designed as minimum competency tests for that grade, a student should not experience anxiety. None of our kids reported being anxious about the GHSGT. That is a "high-stakes" test.

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog I would imagine that teachers have upped the pressure now that the results on these tests will eventually be tied to their evaluations. Can you blame them?

class80olddog
class80olddog

I agree with you - that is the source of the anxiety. I do not agree with using student scores to evaluate teachers - too difficult to do properly. You could evaluate teachers starting with a test of teacher knowledge.

redweather
redweather

@Gene G Johnson @class80olddog If I am a car salesman I will be evaluated on the number of units I move off the lot. I don't have to worry about things like whether my customers will pay their car note, how they drive, whether they keep their tires properly inflated, the oil changed, etc. It is absurd to think that a teacher can be evaluated in the same way.



Gene G Johnson
Gene G Johnson

@class80olddog  Knowing something and be able and willing to teach it are two entirely different things. Salemen have a quota. They are pressured to sell regardless of the economy, the advertising, the product and so on.
We are all evaluated. Teaching is not different in that regard.
Teaching is easier to achieve, especially when armies of parents are helping the teachers do their jobs. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

And what does a salesman do when he is assigned to sell an inferior product at too high a price? He lies, cheats, and steals!

class80olddog
class80olddog

In a failing school, teachers would be trying to pass a 1974 Ford Pinto with no motor as a "reliable used car driven by a Sunday school teacher only on Sunday's". That is what they are doing when they increase their graduation rate without improving learning.

Jessica Heilman
Jessica Heilman

What armies of parents? Please let me know where they are as Id love a share of the help you claim they provide. Also, salesman have access to an abundance of and do not have to pay out of pocket for their resources. We are expected to pay out of pocket for basic necessities such as paper, pencils, ink, pens, etc. Want to do a fun and engaging hand on lesson? Gotta pay for it yourself. Most of us dont even have enough computers for every child during testing much less enough to be able to do any sort of teaching with as if were not GMASing, we are benchmarking or SLOing. But I suspect you have no idea what those acronyms even stand for as youve probably never step foot in a classroom as a teacher before. And yet here you are making condescending, know it all comments about our profession as if you really have a clue....

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@class80olddog

"I don't think you read a YouTube video[.]"

Thanks.  Now I understand something about the lack of comprehension rooted in your incessantly reductive chatter.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Sorry, I flunked reading comprehension on that one.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog


It was Patti Ghezzi's "wonderful" essay that Ed Johnson mentioned as having been "read," not the John Oliver "take" that was presented on the YouTube video.


P. S. "incessantly reductive chatter" is not a compliment to you.

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog No, that is not an example of ad hominem. Referring to the way you frame your arguments as "reductive chatter" is a retort.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I accept the "reductive chatter" part - MES referred to it as "not a compliment"

I always believe that when a person cannot argue with your ideas, then they resort to talking about you personally. Thus the "ad hominem".

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog If the comment had been, "Only a Neanderthal would engage in your kind of reductive chatter," then you'd have ad hominem.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I keep hearing about "teaching to the test" -'there is nothing wrong with that. But teachers want to teach test taking skills to try to game the system rather than just teaching the content. Teachers are making the students anxious.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@class80olddog The test-taking skills that are taught are skills like keyboarding and word-processing.  Would you suggest we give an 8-year a computer-based test without teaching these skills? 

We also teach reasoning and problem-solving.  Do you think anyone could take a standardized test without these skills? 

What about the skill of referencing a text in an essay? It is a skill that is required to be successful.  


I am not sure what skills are being taught to "game the system"... if you don't know the answer, choose "C"? Eliminate the obviously wrong answers first?  If your computer crashes, raise your hand?  


The great majority of teachers do everything in their power to help their students see the test for what it is...a snapshot of their knowledge.  Are the teachers anxious?  Sure, their careers are in the hands of 8-year old children who may or may not have had breakfast, may or may not have had a place to sleep last night, may be in the middle of fighting parents, may have gotten themselves up, dressed, and on the bus by themselves because mom had to be at work early, may have a difficult time sitting still for 10 minutes and now we are asking them to sit for hours to take a test that we may or may not have results in time to plan instruction for the following year.  And yet, the teachers' ability to teach, success in the classroom, and soon, their salaries, will depend on the outcome of the test.  If that doesn't cause anxiety, I'd like to know the name of the meds you take.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

So the kids are anxious that a test might hold them back, but not anxious enough to do their work throughout the semester? I don't agree with using student test scores to judge teachers, but using them to judge students is appropriate. Of course we would not need these tests if teachers' grades were truly reflective of the level of mastery. The failure of traditional schools lies in the 90% who are socially promoted to flounder in the next grade.

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

Patti Ghezzi is right! The whole concept of "accountability" has been corrupted into this standardized testing madness and is running public education off the rails. What is the real purpose of it? Who grades these tests? See the book "Making the Grades" by Todd Farley. 

Standardized tests are a one dimensional, inaccurate evaluation of the educational process that serves no useful educational purpose. Their only value is to give a simple numerical datum to compare schools/students without any context. The sooner we can get rid of these destructive standardized tests and get back to giving teachers the primary responsibility for testing and grading students (so that the tests can be a useful tool that helps teachers/students to focus on their students learning weaknesses) the better. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@itsbrokeletsfixit


I have used standardized tests when I was an instructional leader to ascertain reading grade level development, both comprehension and vocabulary development, for individual students.  Moreover, I had charted a developmental history of progress or regression in a given child's reading development over his years in school.  Some teachers used standardized tests, in the same manner, to ascertain the math development of their math students.


However, I used those tests only for diagnostic purposes to enhance instruction, not to "judge" anyone.


I still believe in the value of some standardized testing for diagnostic purposes, but the testing should be in the context of an educational model, not a business model.  There is too much emphasis today on standardized testing used to critique schools and teachers, without considering many other factors involved, imo.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"We cheat because we have to cheat to keep our jobs!" Yes, Beverly Hall.

class80olddog
class80olddog

That is also the reason they did away with th GHSGT.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The pressure comes from the principals and the superintendent. Very doubtful if it extends up to the school board

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@itsbrokeletsfixit

“Standardized tests are a one dimensional, inaccurate evaluation of the educational process that serves no useful educational purpose.”

Indeed.  However, standardized tests could be used to evaluate the “educational process” but they are not, in general.  Why not?  Because if they were so used, then that usage would upset business model-mined school boards, superintendents, and politicians who always demand a “who” to hold “accountable.”

If the Georgia Milestones results were to be used to assess the educational process that is the State of Georgia public schools system, then the results would reveal: 1) only a few schools are performing for the worse and those schools tend to be GNET schools; and, 2) only a handful of schools are performing for the better and none is a charter school (as in charter schools are making no meaningful difference).  To learn this requires a fundamentally different paradigm than the usual simplistic ranking of schools.

To use standardized tests to evaluate the educational process will require a fundamentally different paradigm, one that is synthetical in nature and open to cooperation and collegiality without “judgment” (MES). 

Why the need for a fundamentally different paradigm?  Because the educational process is not a “who.”  Rather, the educational process is a “what.”  It comprises myriad interdependent and interacting components that are not reducible to the simplicity of holding any one person “accountable” for performance, except for those who designed the educational process apart from especially teachers and other educational professionals.

Simplistic, reductive, analytical paradigms place a premium on needing good management to manage mechanistic widget-producing kinds of operations, as with many businesses, where the individual tends to be treated as a composite of “skills” without agency.

Complex, encompassing, synthetical paradigms place a premium on needing high quality leadership to lead dynamical social systems, such as the educational process, where the individual is honored as an agent unto herself or himself.  Try convincing a kindergartner she is without agency, and watch what happens.  Of course, so-called school reform is much about beating children’s agency out of them early on, so as to make them suitable for production as widgets hence fit for business model operations.

class80olddog
class80olddog

By the way, did you just learn the word "agency"? How does that word help teach students who do not come to school?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Teachers failed their trust by giving inflated grades that were in no way reflective of the mastery of the subject matter

Gene G Johnson
Gene G Johnson

@dg417s @class80olddog  Administrators were all teachers at one time. Why is it that administrators change their tune when they become administrators? Why is it that teachers don't picket and demonstrate? The only time I ever seem teacher demonstrations or picketing is when it involves their pay and benefits.

class80olddog
class80olddog

What was that saying that infuriates those on here? "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, become administrators."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@EdJohnson @itsbrokeletsfixit


Very well said, Ed.  I especially liked your description of what an excellent educational system entails as you explained in your closing paragraph, i.e., "Complex, encompassing, synthetical paradigms place a premium on needing high quality leadership to lead dynamical social systems, such as the educational process, where the individual is honored as an agent unto herself or himself."

class80olddog
class80olddog

Bunch of PC hogwash designed to distract from the issues of discipline, attendance, and social promotion.

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog With all due respect, why do you think that teachers do this? Graduation rate has been a part of AYP and CCRPI since they were created - and if the incentive is there, administrators are often going to push to increase graduation rates.

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog Where is the pressure coming from though? I am not condoning the action, but I have been pressured to increase grades for students who didn't earn it in the name of maintaining the graduation rate. I don't do it, but I have felt that pressure.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Here is a "reductive" idea- let's hold the students accountable for their learning. (Nah - tried that in the sixties and look what happened - graduates actually had skills and discipline was better)

class80olddog
class80olddog

So a kindergartener is able to make decisions for himself/herself? I hate to inform you, but true "agency" does not arrive until 21 (see alcohol purchase laws). Until then, others are in charge of what is "best" for someone.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@class80olddog

“…but true 'agency' does not arrive until 21 …”


What?  A joke, right?

Agency is inborn; we all have or had it at birth.  Why in the world do you think newborns do what they do?

And have you ever heard of this thing called Goggle, at all?  Goggling isn’t hard to comprehend.  But in case it is, for you, here are but two resources from among many one may find by Googling something like “children demonstrating agency:”

Promoting Children’s Agency in Early Childhood Education

Promoting independence and agency

By the way, maybe it will be pleasing to you to comprehend children’s agency as related to one of your favorites; viz., discipline.

class80olddog
class80olddog

My parents taught me that I was without agency when I was a child. Thank goodness they did or I might have turned out like some of today's kids.

teachermom4
teachermom4

@dg417s @class80olddog I think it also has to do with the Hope Scholarship. Parents want that money for college, so there is pressure from them, as well, to keep grades up.