Art of Effective Teaching Lost in Rising Tide of Tests and Analysis

Recently one of our school board members, Mr. Tom Bundros, said
he thought our district was becoming complacent about test
scores.
Recently one of our school board members, Mr. Tom Bundros, said he thought our district was becoming complacent about test scores. I’d like to respond to him from the trenches, as a teacher who has been teaching in Gilroy for more than 20 years. This absolutely is not true. I know few, if any, teachers or principals who are complacent. Most are working hard to improve achievement for our students, only to find themselves overwhelmed, perplexed and disheartened by the data, and quite frankly, out of answers.

Most of us remember being taught information in school and taking a test to see if we have mastered the material. We also probably remember taking standardized tests at the end of the year. Today’s climate of testing is much different. Not only do we continue to administer the typical tests that are part of our everyday curriculum, but we have added a plethora of additional assessments and examine the data for hours on end. At the elementary level, many sites spend days, several times a year, giving the Reading Oral Language Assessment, which must be administered to each child individually. The children take Measure of Academic Performance tests, as well, several times a year. We also give other additional weekly assessments to chart students’ progress. Instead of regular weekly staff meetings we now score and analyze tests. We spend hours during teacher in-service days examining the data and spend many more hours pouring over the numbers during academic conferences several times a year.

As a speaker recently told a group of teachers, a doctor doesn’t cure a patient by constantly taking his temperature, yet that is exactly what we’re doing. As a result we are constantly being given the message that we don’t measure up. What kind of an environment do you think this creates for students? I find the process demotivating and discouraging as a teacher. I would imagine the students feel the same. 

Many teachers feel over testing is taking the place of teaching and learning. Test data review is compromising lesson planning, correcting papers, giving valuable feedback to students and addressing parent concerns.

The core issue here, Mr. Bundros, is that the system is fundamentally flawed. Rather than asking if our district is complacent about test scores, we should be asking about the validity of the tests. Are all the tests we use during the year aligned with the state standards and the curriculum we are required to teach? No. Are they consistent with the assessments used by our comparison states? No. Are all other states’ standards as rigid as ours? Again, no! We are often comparing apples to oranges. How long are we going to continue to grapple with this flawed system? Isn’t it time we start working to change it? 

Mr. Bundros and perhaps other district officials, think the solution is to put more pressure on the teachers and students that are not meeting the proficiency level. Yet, the current amount of focus on testing, pressure to raise test scores and constant comparisons have led to a pace that often feels maniacal, expectations that often are unrealistic and standards that are inappropriate for the child’s stage of development. I can’t imagine adding more!

For example, to help combat these low scores on the assessment tests, many schools offer after-school programs now, where students can attend school for another two to three hours per day. At some sites we even have a program before school, so a child could technically be at school for 10 hours. I hope I’m not only one who wonders if this is really worth it.

Teaching is an art. There is an ebb and flow to the attention span of students and their receptiveness to learning. A good teacher can read this and constantly monitors and adjusts lessons accordingly. Unfortunately, this current climate has forced some of us to push beyond what we know is right for children.  

I think we need balance in education and more of a focus on the positive. Our collective efforts in this need to be redirected to something more constructive. We’re throwing good money after bad by continuing to administer flawed tests and digest the scores, all the while wasting time and opportunities for teaching that are gone forever. The bureaucrats and teachers need to come together and focus on what is best for our children and what works in the trenches, and let that direct the path toward a solution.

Tammy Vickroy is a longtime Gilroy teacher. Anyone interested in

writing a gust column may contact Editor Mark Derry at

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