Keep perspective when you plan for Standardized Testing.

Test Overload

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.


  1. Bravo, Sharon! I commend you for shedding light on this sad state of affairs. It has indeed become a vicious cycle of coaching, testing, marking, blaming and considering the knock the ego will have to take! Are we not meant to be developing, assessing, coding, analysing, reflecting, strategizing and intervening? I agree with your view that schools are conducting their own standardized tests throughout the year, but also wish to add that standardized assessments, developed by education support specialists, have also found their way into our schools. In many instances, these assessments are conducted weekly and sadly, equate to glorified standardized tests. As a CAPS lead teacher, I shared my understanding of conducting 100%, school-based, developmental assessments, with colleagues from 8 schools in our circuit. I also remember promoting a strengthened curriculum, that caters for our learners' needs. In addition to this, this strengthened curriculum was meant to pace learning and teaching. Teachers were elated to learn that they could use their class activities as part of their assessments. Less than 4 years later, I find myself in the position, where I have to design tasks, allocate marks, conduct standardized assessments, capture a mark and comment on a code. I feel that less emphasis needs to be placed on marks and results and more energy should be focussed on holistic development, potential and success. The last I heard, teaching and learning experience was meant to be guided by the CAPS and not the TITS (Taking Incessant Tests Statement). I envisage a year, where the powers that be, take cognisance of the fact that this testing frenzy exists, contradicts policy, and is depriving our learners from developing and achieving their true potential. Thank you for always knowing which conversations to start, Sharon! May God bless and keep you and may you always be inspired to be our 'Queen Blogger Bee'.

    1. Thank you for this insightful comment, Nadia. This is the first time I see this comment and thus the ridiculously late response. It would have been good for our other readers to pick up on the important points you raise here.

      Keep on keeping on, colleague!


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