Friday, September 4, 2015

Standardized Testing Chipping Away at Teaching

According to the Maryland Reporter, a growing number of educators worry that standardized tests "chip away at education", limit teacher autonomy, cause lost time in the class room, stress students and teachers, and limit valuable learning experiences such as field trips and access to computer labs during testing. The negative impact of standardized tests such as PARCC was discussed yesterday at a meeting sponsored by the Maryland State Education Association with participation by two state delegates, teachers, administrators and parents at Roland Park Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore. The discussion will be broadcast Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 at 10 a.m. on The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA-FM. A second town hall will be held on Nov. 4, 2015 in Montgomery County.


  1. The union is afraid of accountability, period. They want raises and increased benefits without any accountability for student achievement. They should just say it.

    1. Actually, before this particular accountability system came into being, MCPS was at the forefront of teacher evaluation with PAR - which was created in conjunction with MCEA. HUNDREDS of weaker teachers have been removed from the classroom, while others have received mentoring and support to help them improve. Even Arne Duncan, champion of using test scores in teacher evaluations, thought it was good:

      The way last year's PARCC windows were set up, the first one in March was the "Performance-Based Assessment;" that window was closed and schools went back to their normal schedules just before Spring Break. AFTER Spring Break, there were only 2 weeks of normal schedules before the "End-Of-Year" block began - 6 weeks BEFORE the *actual* end of the school year. What additional learning anyone thought was going to take place in those 3 weeks, one of which was not a week of school, is beyond me, but those windows upended school schedules for upwards of 6 weeks. Some periods were skipped in some schools, other schools had shortened periods; Broadband use was often limited so that it wouldn't be overloaded during testing blocks (PARCC was taken online in MCPS and many other schools nationwide). Once the second testing window was over, there were only a couple of weeks left before finals in middle and high school.

      Is this the kind of school environment you'd want YOUR kids? One where testing dominates the school and schedule and abridges learning from March onward? PARCC tells us they've "heard" concerns from parents and teachers and are eliminating the first window next year, so that means that *only* the time after Spring Break will be compromised; total testing time is being reduced by about 90 minutes (depending on grade and subject), so a student who spent 10 hours testing last year can expect to *only* spend about 8-1/2 hours testing this year. (By comparison, the SAT can be completed in half a day.) The time and money being spent on standardized testing is out of control.

      Can we still use the tests to see where weaknesses are without spending this degree of time and money? Absolutely. A number of proposals have been put forth, and not just by unions, to do just that. But the current situation benefits nobody except those getting paid for some part of this machine, whether it's for the tests, the Broadband infrastructure, the purchase and maintenance of Chromebooks - THAT is who benefits most. The kids? Not so much. And if you think it's just "the union" who feels this way, and not a growing number of PARENTS, you are misinformed. The movement to refuse tests like PARCC did not originate with the teachers, with the unions, with the schools - it started with parents who are tired of the loss of learning time and the loss of money that could be better spent on smaller classes, on building maintenance - a thousand other things.

    2. When you say "hundreds," can you site a source for that number?


    3. . I agree 100 per cent with your reply as does the great majority. This type of response is echoing all over the country . Teachers can no longer be creative and students can no longer think for themselves. Sad part is I'd love to see the report cards and college grades of the creators of the testing systems. They are making money because of federal and state mandates that have long failed and some states in the Northeast have suspended at least part of the testing being done which dates back to no child left behind rules, which have had miserable consequences for everyone.

    4. Anon 12:23, the article I linked to - it's not a live link - was written in June of 2011 and as of that time, 4 years ago, "...the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process." So that was 500 gone "In the 11 years since PAR began," 4 years before now, and I know anecdotally more have left since then. If anyone has a more current source, I too would be interested.

      I'll report the link to that article here at the end rather than in the middle of my post to make it less obscure, since I hadn't realized it wouldn't be a live link (have to copy-paste):

    5. That was over an 11 year period, about 18 a year. How many were fired each year before PAR?
      12,000 teachers working each year.

    6. Good question; it was still in the initial stages of implementation as I was going on maternity leave with my first-born, and I'll be honest, that's pretty much what I was focused on at the time. I'm not sure where I'd find that information, but you definitely have me curious now. :-)

      My point was that MCEA had a seat at the table in its creation and implementation, not to protect bad teachers but to get them out of the system. Good teachers don't want others who make the rest of us (I don't work for MCPS any more but I'm still a teacher) look bad, who drag us down, still in their classrooms. Many weaker teachers who went through the mentoring process DID improve, so those 500 weren't the only teachers who were impacted by PAR; if another 500 (and yes, I'm pulling that number from thin air for ease of math; it could be more or fewer) improved their teaching, that's also a positive outcome that benefits everyone, yes?

      Since MCPS didn't take Race to the Top funding, PARCC scores are only 20% of teacher evaluations (I think in PG County it's 50%?). This presents a lot of problems: how to evaluate teachers of non-tested subjects (like music or art) or grades (like Kindergarten teachers, when testing doesn't start until 3rd grade) with those test scores. Until those questions can be satisfactorily answered, I'm not sure whether it's really fair to apply an incomplete formula across the board, or to only use test scores for some teachers but not all. But - if we want tests for all grades and all subjects....that is MORE time spent testing everywhere else. When I was filling in for an MCPS elementary general music teacher a few years ago, I was expected to use county-created and -supplied assessment materials for the grades they'd been created for to that point. Depending on class size (from 17-31), it took me 2-3 WEEKS - of a 9-week marking period! - to complete those assessments, which were expected to be done individually....and these weren't results that would have reflected on the music teacher anyway. When a full 1/3 of a marking period (NOT even counting field trips, assemblies, Federal holidays (almost always on Mondays, too!), fire drills, schedule changes for what was then the MSA, and a shelter my first week there) is assessment, it has gone too far - MUCH too far.


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