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Field Tests To Increase In Schools – Do We Want Our Kids to Be Test Dummies?

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Educators everywhere are all tested out; however, it is worse in some states than others where they are forced to administer field tests. “Field tests” are instruments of mass instruction, usually given after other standardized testing and state testing is completed. The goal is to use students basically as test dummies, but instead of putting them into a car and having them crash into a wall at 50 miles per hour, the kids have to suffer through yet another exam. Parents are told it doesn’t count and not to worry. The students are told the same thing, but the bottom line is valuable instruction time is being turned into a destructive practice – more testing in the name of testing to fine tune future testing. Does anyone feel angry yet?

A recent article in The New York Times focused on this issue, indicating the widespread problem that is growing across the United States. On TV we see people worrying about the so-called zombie apocalypse, but in education we are turning our kids into testing zombies. As an educator I can tell you that nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – dumbs down the classroom environment more than these standardized tests.

What educators are forced to become now is glorified proctors. We hear people banging the drum for the Common Core State Standards (which are sadly and inextricably linked to these assessments), but in the same breath they have no clue how kids are supposed to reach heights suggested by them, especially in classrooms where teachers are unnerved by having to teach to the test. The tests are like a hydra rearing its ugly heads, and this is mainly because the testing in many states is now being tied to teacher evaluations.

What these states are basically saying (and New York State is at the forefront of this) is that teachers need to learn the new standards, teach in a new and more challenging way while they are learning them, make sure that the students grasp everything about them, and also succeed on the state tests. Oh, and by the way, if the students do poorly, you’re probably a bad teacher.

So at this time of year, after students have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous assessments, now some of them will be selected to sit through field tests. Having been through this process, I can tell you that there is nothing a principal or a teacher can do about it. Your school and grades to be assessed are selected from on high and you get the directive to administer the test. After a long haul of state exams in math, English, and science, this is asking a great deal from those selected schools.

Now should be the time not for field tests but more for field trips. In beautiful spring weather, many learning experiences await students at conservatories, farms, parks, and museums. As a parent as well as an educator, I would rather see our children out in the sunshine learning about something in a vibrant and memorable way than being stuck behind a desk taking an exam that will facilitate the testing companies and the state’s plan for more testing.

This June over a quarter of a million students in over 3,000 schools will be forced to take field tests in English and math. Outraged parents can bang on the principal’s door and ask why, and the principal can only respond that he or she has been directed to do this. Of course, the salient reason is that the alignment of the CCSS is going viral nationwide, and the companies are scrambling to craft a “national exam modeled on the new standards.” Next year more than a million students in 22 states will be subjected to more of this insanity, all in the name of propagation of more and more testing at a school near you.

People everywhere need to stand up to the testing companies and state education departments and demand for an end to this ludicrous waste of school time. It doesn’t take a degree in education to realize that tests do not teach kids anything more than they know; in fact, over-testing like this inhibits true instruction and actually impedes the learning process.

I have always hoped that we would view testing through the less is more lens. I would prefer a more holistic model, one that could involve a wide variety of things to assess knowledge and cognition. I believe students who have to compile artifacts of their own learning into a portfolio over time, who can become the center of learning rather than the object of outcomes, and who can fully and actively participate in their own education will not only become outstanding students but the brilliant leaders of tomorrow.

But now we are caught in the bind of contracts with testing companies and a course that has been set for us. It is as if we are on a ship caught in a flow of water with no oars, sails, or anchors. If there is nothing that can stop the direction we are heading, we are on course for a disaster when we hit the iceberg of inevitability.

Testing is not teaching; it has never been teaching. True educators view testing as a necessary evil in a grade oriented world, but in reality most of us who are in this because we are passionate about our subject matter and love teaching it know that testing only stops the educative process. There are better ways to assess such as portfolios, oral presentations, visual essays, and digital projects. This is the direction education should be heading in because life is heading in this direction. If the goal of the CCSS is to prepare students for the “real” world of work, then taking the over-testing route is by far the most horrendous and eventually detrimental way to go.

Ask your children when they come home from school what they did today. Chances are if they took a test they will grumble, groan, and a short time later forget everything they studied to pass the exam; however, if they had gone on a field trip that day to a farm and learned about irrigation, raising crops, caring for livestock, and bringing goods to market, chances are they will be smiling and happy. There is also an amazing opportunity for retention because they will never forget what they saw on that farm.

Everyday cannot be a field trip, but it also should not be another day to prep for testing. At this time of year especially kids shouldn’t be subjected to field tests in a hot classroom and should have the vibrant experience of meaningful field trips. We are only wasting valuable class time on tests that do not count and mean nothing now or later in our children’s lives.

Parents should rightfully reject these tests and the more extensive testing yet to come. We know our kids are not test dummies, and it is high time that testing companies and education departments across the country know how we feel. We need to fight to get these bloated instruments out of the way in order to get back to the basics of learning, of wonder, and of joy that education can bring into our children’s lives. Teachers do not want to teach to the test. Students shouldn’t have to be subjected to this, and it is up to every parent to make a difference and the time to do that is now.

Photo credits: testing dummy-testing.gobanana.com; test dummies-roadandtrack.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.