TESTING: THE WRONG “DRIVER” FOR EDUCATION REFORM

Noted Educational Researcher, Michael Fullan, published a paper last year (April 2011), called “Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform.”  The first wrong driver Fullan lists is accountability and testing.  Fullan states: “Accountability measures plus sticks and carrots do not, and cannot, ever accomplish [increased motivation]…[A]ccountability …does not build widespread capacity, nor does it increase intrinsic motivation.”  Research (such as the one conducted by the National Research Council) undoubtedly shows that increased focus on testing has actually led to a decline in student achievement.   Yet, recent educational policy persists in driving down the wrong road.

Parents, teachers, students, and administrators also acknowledge that current educational policy is misdirected.  A recent survey conducted by New York State Principals shows that parents (77%) and teachers (90%) are overwhelmingly against increasing the number and length of tests.  The toll and cost of these standardized exams is reported by principals in these surveys as follows:  1) Approximately 15 instructional days are lost because of having to hire substitute teachers to grade the ELA and Math exams in grades 3-8.  2) One-third of principals report that more than $2,500 is spent on test preparation materials and another $2500 is spent on hiring substitutes so that classroom teachers in grades 3-8 could be freed up to grade these exams.

However, the most telling and startling effect of these exams are reported by parents in the “comment” section of the survey.  Parents (74%)  report that their children experienced increased stress and anxiety in the month before and during testing. Parents shared some anecdotes in the survey about test anxiety and stress.  Children showed physical symptoms of test anxiety such as asthma attacks, acid reflux, vomiting, and tics.  Parents surveyed also noted sleep disruption and crying, feelings of failure that increased as tests progressed, refusals to go to school and complaints of boredom and restlessness from students who finished early and were required to sit still for the full 90 minutes of the exam.  One veteran teacher summed up the six-day testing experience for 3-8 graders this way: “The stress level among the teachers, students, and actually the entire school has been beyond anything I have experienced in my 26 years in education.  And, to what end?”

Here at the high school level, students are not immune from the stress and anxiety caused by high stakes tests.  In a survey designed by North’s Shared Decision-Making Team, 94% of students, parents, and teachers indicated that testing was the most stressful element of a high school student’s career.

As New York State educational policy races towards the road of evaluating teachers and principals based on student test scores, more and more emphasis will be placed on these exams.  Fullan concludes in his paper: “The net result of excessive testing is that, instead of teachers being swept up to ride waves of educational reform, they will be crushed by a veritable tsunami of standards and assessments.”

The insistence on driving in the wrong direction is bewildering to researchers, university professors, teachers, administrators, parents, and students.  Why are we moving forward with educational reforms that have already been deemed misplaced, unworkable, and detrimental for our students?  There are proven paths to educational reform and achievement.  We should be racing towards the already paved road to success.