Right now most grade 3 through grade 8 students here in Indiana are taking ISTEP+...or more correctly, ISTEP+ Part 1. ISTEP+ Part 2 is given in April, less than a month after Part 1. At least, that's how it is for most students. Third graders aren't quite as lucky.
Indiana is a member of the "Learn or be Punished" club, so third graders also get to take the high-stakes IREAD-3. IREAD-3 is an additional reading test (yes, reading is also tested on the ISTEP+ Part 1 and Part 2). IREAD-3 immediately follows ISTEP+ Part 1 and their scores on IREAD-3 determine if they get promoted to fourth grade for the next school year. [See Research on Retention in Grade for why this is a terrible idea.]
Tenth graders take ISTEP+, too. Secondary students also take ECAs (End of Course Assessments).
There are other tests from the state as well...the alternate assessment, ISTAR...the Kindergarten readiness test, ISTAR-KR...the English proficiency, WIDA....ACCUPLACER. Next year ISTEP+ will be replaced with ILEARN, which promises to be somewhat different, but also somewhat the same.
HOW MUCH ARE WE SPENDING...
...on tests in Indiana? We've spent $300 million since 2002 and $38 million for the last two years of ISTEP+ alone. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction hopes to spend $26.3 million for the next two years. Such a bargain!
But the cost of testing is much greater than just the cost of the test booklets. Personnel costs...the loss of instructional time...the cost of paying teachers, administrators and others to fiddle around with testing chores instead of actually working with students...and the cost in emotional and physical stress related to the tests.
The money (and time) we have wasted could surely have been put to better use in classrooms...lowering class sizes perhaps with an additional 200 teachers statewide...updated technology...textbooks...classroom sets of books...building repairs...science equipment. Perhaps that money could have helped the people of Muncie and Gary retain their democratic right to elected school boards.
If you include the millions of dollars dumped into private pockets through charters and vouchers we would have enough to build a pretty solid system of common schools in Indiana.
THE WRONG KINDS OF WAYS
What are we doing with all those different test scores? Test scores are used to (among other things)...
- evaluate teachers
- determine grade placement for children (IREAD-3)
- rank and grade schools
- rank school systems
The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we're using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we're using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.Standardized tests are developed to determine how much students know about the tested material. They are not made to evaluate teachers, schools, and school systems. Using them inappropriately is invalid and a misuse of the test.
The entire country misuses and overuses tests...and we do it with the blessing of the U.S. Education Department and all 50 state Departments of Education at a cost of nearly $2 billion (The last study I could find was done in 2012, and the cost, at that time, was $1.7 billion. I think I'm safe in assuming that it's more than that now).
[UPDATE: As I was getting ready to post this, I saw this video from NPE. It's worth your time. Watch it...
TESTING IS NOT TEACHING: WHAT SHOULD TEACHERS DO?
Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do. -- Candidate Barack Obama, 2007Testing is not teaching and a child (or a school/state/nation) is more than a test score.
So what can one teacher do?
Here are some things to keep in mind when you're administering tests this month -- or at any time during the school year.
1. You have already prepared them as much as you can. No matter what you do you can't (legally) add more to their knowledge once a testing session begins.
2. Standardized tests measure knowledge, but you have provided your students with growth opportunities, experiences and skills which aren't (and can't be) tested such as (but not limited to):
creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, a sense of beauty, a sense of wonder, honesty, integrity3. Understand that the increased importance of standardized tests -- the fact that they are used to rate schools and teachers, as well as measure student knowledge accumulation -- is based on invalid assumptions. As a professional your job is to teach your students. If knowledge were all that were important in education then an understanding of child development, pedagogy, and psychology wouldn't be necessary to teach (and yes, I know, there are people in the state who actually believe that). We know that's not true. We know that one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is the relationship between teacher and child. We know that well trained, caring teachers are better educators than computers.
4. People who make rules and laws about teaching, from legislators to billionaires to presidents, don't understand the teaching and learning process. For most of them, their understanding of teaching comes from the point of view of a learner.
They don't understand what it means to be a teacher in a classroom.
They don't know the planning that takes place before the first day of school. They don't understand the thought behind creating an entire year's worth of lesson plans. They don't know the emotional responses a teacher feels when a class leaves her care at the end of a school year. They don't know all the time and effort spent preparing at night, on weekends, and during "vacations."
They have never helped a child decide to remain in school only to lose him to a drive-by shooting. They have never gotten a letter from a former student thanking them for supporting her during a family crisis. They have never tried to explain to a class of Kindergartners why their classmate who had cancer is not coming back. They have never felt the joy of watching a student who they helped all year long walk across the stage to accept a diploma.
State legislators who come from jobs as attorneys, florists, or auctioneers don't know what preparing for a class -- or half a dozen classes -- of students, day after day, for 180 days, is like. They have an image of what a classroom teacher does based on their childhood and youthful memories, but they don't know how it really works.
Understand that. Remember that you are much more valuable to your students than what is reflected on "the test."
5. Do what you have to do to survive in today's classroom. Make sure your students are, to the extent that you are able, ready to take "the test." Then, let it go and return to being the best teacher you can be. Keep in mind that the most important thing you will do for your students is to be a person they can respect, learn from, look up to, emulate, and care about.
One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. -- Carl Jung