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The Reflective Teacher: Do Teaching and Testing Go Hand-in-Hand? by Gail Beyrer

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Gail Beyrer, an AmeriCorps veteran whose husband also is a teacher, teaches fourth grade on Long Island, New York.

Gail Beyrer

Do you ever feel as though you must be doing something wrong in your classroom?

So many states have issued standards and touted them as beacons in the murky world of education. I think, (although I wouldn't bet money on it!), that those states instituted such testing for elementary school children because their experts believed the tests would benefit children. The assessments were not (I'm almost sure!) developed to give teachers, parents, administers, and children ulcers.

And yet, I am a teacher and I care about my students' education. If those assessments were benefiting children, wouldn't I be singing their praises? Wouldn't I be thanking those who created those tests for providing me with the tools for diagnosing my student's learning issues? Wouldn't I be pontificating about the positive instructional changes such assessments had made in our schools? Wouldn't I be jealous that I hadn't had the opportunity to take the same tests when I was a kid? Would I really be feeling -- as I do -- like screaming and pulling my hair out?

I must be doing something wrong.

I've been doing a bit of reading about No Child Left Behind. According to that document, beginning in the 2005-06 school year, standardized assessment tests in math and reading must be administered every year in grades 3 through 8. Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, science achievement also must be tested.

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Yuck! I know that "yuck" is not exactly a professional assessment, nor does it make me sound particularly well educated, but please ... this is ridiculous. I understand that all our students are not performing the way they used to. I also recognize that, in this country, we have undergone a change in family structure; a change that has had a big impact on how our students learn.

According to "No Child Left Behind," one way in which test scores can be sorted is by students' economic characteristics. Therein lies the problem: If even our federal government admits that poor children, children from low socio-economic backgrounds, have different learning needs than students from more affluent backgrounds do, isn't it time we addressed the real issues?

Schools can be mandated to test students until everyone is blue in the face, but testing still is not going to help children who are too stressed to learn. Children who don't have enough food to eat or live with the threat of eviction have a hard time memorizing their multiplication tables, no matter how well they're taught or how hard they try.

The Spring, 2003 issue of American Educator includes an article on the fourth-grade slump and the deficits that are evident in reading by the time kids enter fourth grade. In The Early CatastropheBetty Hart and Todd R. Risley discuss their extensive research, which found that children in "welfare" families have half the preschool experience with words that children in "professional" families have.

What is increased testing going to do for those children? Perhaps make them even more frustrated with the gaps in their knowledge? Possibly increase the high school drop-out rate as children realize that if their strengths are not academic, they have no value in our education system?

I accept the need for schools to be accountable; I truly do. But accountable for forcing all children to produce the exact same result in the exact same amount of time on the exact same day? That is not real life.

I obviously have strong feelings about this subject. I teach fourth grade; my students take three state tests over the course of the year. I also feel pressure to help prepare them for the test they will take in November of fifth grade. I certainly do not want more standardized tests -- especially since more and more research supports the claim that one size does not fit all.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige thinks that teaching and testing go hand in hand. To say I disagree with that educational philosophy is an understatement. If we know that some children have a reading deficit, why do we keep forcing them to fail on state tests? Is it because we want to beat into our struggling students that they are failures and that that is all they'll ever be?

I'm not opposed to standards. But I want a standard for kindness, so some of my students who are struggling academically can show off their strengths in the "sweetie-pie" category. I want a standard for effort, so my children who come for extra-help every day are recognized for their hard work, whether they ultimately "make the grade" or not.

The bottom line is that there are children who are seriously and adversely affected by constant tests; there has to be another way -- a better way -- of measuring the progress of those students. As teachers, we should be trying to reach our students, not meet our quotas.

Previous Teacher Diaries

Be sure to see Education World's previous teacher diary features, The First 180 Days: First-Year Teacher Diaries and A First-Year Teacher and Her Mentor.

Article by Gail Beyrer
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05/13/2003