Keep perspective when you plan for Standardized Testing.
Standardized tests are under the spotlight this week. In Atlanta, USA, a widespread conspiracy to tamper with students' standardized test results has been uncovered and those teachers were sentenced to prison after a year long trial. Ten teachers, principals and education officials were convicted of racketeering charges. These teachers received at least a year jail sentence, while three education administrators were given 21- year sentences.
What confounds one is that the same criminal law that is used to nail down serious organized crime like drug trafficking and money laundering has been used to prosecute these teachers. Of course, the teachers and the education authorities have to be punished for breaking the law and acting unethically, but to charge these teachers with racketeering and then using the full might of the law to bear, is disturbing.
Examining Standardised Testing
An equally important concern is what drove the teachers and the education support officials to act illegally and irresponsibly while they knew the huge risks? One serious consideration is that the fundamental purpose of conducting standardized tests does not match the reality on the ground.
Standardized testing is a barometer to measure learner performance.
Annual National Standardized tests are critical benchmarks that education departments use for the following reasons:
- We need to know whether we are transforming teaching and learning at our schools.
- These results should be used to determine how best schools can be supported to improve learner performance.
- Schools and the education department can be held accountable and responsible.
In reality, Standardized Testing data have become the sword of damocles
The developmental element of conducting standardized tests is largely ignored. Schools are labelled good or bad, depending on whether they achieved the benchmark or not. If a school performs well, they are safe. If the school results are poor, that means the teachers, principals and administrators are incompetent. To bring underperforming schools in line, more bureaucratic pressure is applied. It is this carrot-and-stick-method that progressively erodes progress or make people desperate.
This is what happened to the schools ( including the education district) that were implicated in Atlanta. Besides the fear of losing their jobs, teachers were also paid bonuses if they raised their test scores quickly over one test period. This culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation lies at the root of the standardized test scandal in Atlanta.
(i) Schools are mirroring the test frenzy
Even schools are caught in this trap of creating test layers. Schools are running their own battery of 'standardized tests' throughout the year in preparation for the Systemic tests. If the learners underperform in these weekly tests, the learners are blamed. In some cases, schools even step up their testing programme, adding more tests to an already tight teaching programme. Remedial programmes are also a series of tests rather than activities.
These tests take up so much time and energy. Teachers have to create time to prepare for these tests, find time to conduct them and finally, these tests have to be marked, recorded and analyzed. These tests also have to undergo a battery of quality assurance processes. I feel exhausted just writing about this test administration process.
We need to 'untest' our schools creatively and supportively by showing schools how to assess meaningfully. The emphasis is on SHOW; modelling in a real class.
We can draw lessons from the Atlanta racketeering court case.
Education support services and schools can learn from the Atlanta court case. Schools are particularly vulnerable. That is why the school head and the school management team need to keep perspective and help teachers who are terrified of systemic tests. One idea is to revisit your school improvement plan where your specified your targets, strategies and accountability indicators.
These prompts below may help:
Revisit your school's strategy to improve learner performance.
- What strategies have you plotted? Do you need to tweak them?
- Has your school also been caught in the 'test spiral'? Are you losing teaching time because of an overload of testing?
- Good classroom teaching is what impacts student performance. Are you directing all your energies to encourage, support and monitor good classroom teaching?
- Do all your learners have reading books for classwork and leisure reading?
These are the building blocks at your school that matter. With time, you will see sustainable, positive shifts in your children's performance.
There are no quick fixes. Hard work, passion, commitment and teamwork will translate into success.
Continue building strong schools and high performing learners.
I would love to hear what your views.