Effects of the High Stakes Testing Game

I saw this article today: “Testing is Killing Learning” in Salon, and it got me angry enough (again) to share. It’s a good summary of how the battle has gone, and the challenges ahead.

The author, Mary Elizabeth Williams, speaks of pep rallies for testing: “But the ultimate effect had a strangely ‘Hunger Games’ tang to it – a mood of forced, rah-rah reassurance to the terrified children going into the arena, cheered on by those too young to yet participate.”

That image is somewhat humorous – but deadly when it kills the joy of learning! The real challenge is the dumbing down of curriculum – by a program that is ostensibly to boost it! Th irony here is that when kids are exposed to “real” literature and the like they are more likely to be engaged – versus macerated snippets and all-too-often poorly written non-fiction. (N.B. There are non-fiction pieces, and primary sources, that can be quite enthralling.)

But teachers are far from the only ones who feel the effects of the high stakes testing game. My high school teacher friend Ariel says, “My honors English curriculum now contains only two books, instead of the 12 I used to teach. And very few short stories. It’s mostly nonfiction, because that’s what will be on the tests. Any books I teach outside of the curriculum will harm my students’ scores on the tests that evaluate them and my performance. Goodbye, ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Goodbye, ‘Macbeth.’ Goodbye, ‘A Separate Peace.’ Most good teachers are demoralized by the test, and horrified by what it is doing to education.”

And as we know the lower grades also lose valuable teaching time to test prep – as well as a distorted focus:

“Children are getting the message at a very young age that if you pick the right choice between several options you can be successful. That’s not the way to learn, especially creatively. That’s not experimenting or exploring or creating. We’re telling kids that that life is a series of hoops and that they need to start jumping through them very early.”

So who really benefits from all this? According to Diane Ravitch:

And it’s a system that, as Core Standards are being implemented around the country, seems built to fail. “All the passing ratings are going to go down about 30 percent this year; that’s what they’re predicting,” says author, advocate and education historian Diane Ravitch. “The dark view is that they want everybody to fail and they want people to say the public schools stink, so they can push for more vouchers and more charters. I can’t describe what’s going on without thinking that we’re in the process of destroying American public education.”

There is also mention of origins of this the “Texas Miracle,” which later evidence shows was a fraud.

So who really benefits from all this? (reprise):

Pearson Education ….

Ms. Williams mentions a principled retirement / resignation letter from New York teacher Gerald “Jerry” Conti. It’s sad to see. Perhaps he just got too ground down.

So we must continue to “fight the good fight.”

This article was originally titled “Common Core smacks of cyanide?” but it’s really about high stakes testing.