Here is a great essay by Georgia classroom teacher Beth Pittard, who is also a grad student at the University of Georgia College of Education:
By Beth Pittard
While many people around the country complete brackets for basketball, teachers everywhere gear up for their own version of March Madness. To prepare for the Criterion Referenced Competency Test to be taken sometime between April 4- May 6, elementary school teachers will actually have to convince students to forget what they have learned about reading.
The high-stakes testing situation leads, literally, to madness.
Let me explain. Teachers are required to teach the Georgia Performance Standards with fidelity. We are expected to “prove” we are doing this by posting the standard in a “highly visible” place in our classrooms along with an essential question (EQ) for each lesson of each day and for each subject area (forget integrating the curriculum, but that’s another story).
Each standard has a code that gives information about the subject area, the grade level, the number of the standard, and the element within that standard. The standard below (ELA5R1h) is interpreted as: English/Language Arts, grade 5, Reading standard 1, element a. The corresponding EQ is also a requirement.
This particular Georgia Performance Standard aligns with research in English Language Arts. Students demonstrate more sophisticated comprehension of text, more motivation to read, and a broader and deeper knowledge of content when they use prior knowledge (memories) and personal experiences to make sense of the text and relate it to new information.
In other words, students as young as 8 years old are taught to be perceptive, connection-making readers the first part of the year. Then those same students are told not to use the very skills and practices their teachers have taught them “good readers use” so they can pass a test.
Administrators and teachers lose in this system. Administrators attempt to support teachers by giving them strategies shown to increase test scores. Teachers are required to teach these test-taking strategies that are in direct opposition to the standards they’ve been required to teach all year.
Who loses the most? Confused students, again as young as 8, who see tests as uphill battles. Before they sit down on the “real” test day, their anxiety has been building. They know there are multiple ways to “read” each question: to make personal connections or not; to choose the “best” answer or the “right” one and how to figure out the difference between the two. Parents don’t know how to help. The community is outraged or discouraged because “those” kids or “those” teachers or “those” administrators cannot seem to get it together and pass that one little test.
That one little test that can change the academic trajectory of a student. Third graders must pass the reading portion in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. Fifth and eighth graders must pass the reading and math portions to be promoted to the next grade.
Let me be clear. This is not a teacher problem. This is not an administrator problem. This is not a parent problem, and it certainly is not a student problem. It is a systematic problem that is not going to change until we refuse to make high-stakes judgments about students based on a number on a test.
Stop the March Madness! If teachers were allowed time to teach and plan rather than constantly having to prove that we are teaching required standards, then maybe students would have opportunities to learn things that will serve them well in life—not just contradictory lessons that confuse them in an effort to pass a standardized test.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog