Focus on testing has crossed the line

Dear Editor,

With the No Child Left Behind legislation, the recent Rand report, and our governor’s feelings about merit pay for teachers, set against my own frustrations with this nationwide testing craze in schools and the enormous pressure we’re under to raise scores, I went online to explore the topic. I found two excellent books that I’d like to encourage anyone interested in education to read: “What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?” by Susan Ohanian and “The Case Against Standardized Tests: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools” by Alfie Kohn.

These books discuss the follies of the standardized tests themselves, the type of teaching and learning that is usually taking place when schools are pressured to raise scores, and the absurdity of using norm-referenced tests, which, by virtue of definition, must label half of us as failures. They explain how our trend of pushing stiffer academics down to earlier grades in the name of raising the bar is more likely to be a recipe for ulcers than student success.

Examples are given to show the negative ramifications of these practices, such as more and more parents being pressured to put their children on Ritalin because they can’t sit still and focus for seven hours a day with few breaks, and few subjects that hold their interest such as music, art, physical education, science and social studies being taught. It was refreshing to have these authors articulate what I know in my heart to be true about the affect this is having on our children.

Am I just looking for excuses as an educator since California is doing poorly according to these reports? Not at all. The message applies to all states, even those scoring well. Our kids are being tested and retested until they’re exhausted and losing interest – some just in test taking, some in school altogether. We’re forgetting that part of our job as educators is to instill a love for learning in our students, that they will take with them through life. As a friend of mine summarized, “Our kids are suffering at the hands of bureaucrats trying to impress bureaucrats.”

Do I have low expectations for students? I don’t think so. Believing curriculum should be aligned with a student’s age, development, abilities, strengths and interests is not called having low expectations in my book. It’s called good teaching.

Would I like to do away with all testing in lieu of feel good grading? Of course not. In fact, when the public has had enough of this and there’s finally an outcry, I hope the pendulum does not swing to the other extreme, which often happens with educational trends.

What I’d like to see is less testing, less focus on testing, and the results of standardized tests used only as one small part of the picture to measure a child’s progress. I’d like teachers to be able to use common sense, professional judgment, and creativity in meeting a child’s needs. I’d like children to receive a rich, well-rounded education, and I’d like to see teachers enjoy teaching and children enjoy learning again.

Tammy Vickroy, Gilroy

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