Students Demanding Test Prep
- Author: Anonymous, Teacher
- State: NY
- Test: Other
- Date: July 29 at 11:47 am ET
Nobody threw up. Nobody broke down into tears. Nobody hyperventilated and passed out. I want to make it clear that none of these things happened during any of the state-mandated tests my students had to take this past April and May. Instead, there was an almost one-hundred percent attendance rate during all testing days, and all tests were finished with no major incidents. This outlook, however, assumes that the effects of high-stakes standardized testing can be summed up by a few days out of the school year. The truth is that testing has a lingering effect that goes beyond the few hours students spend writing in their New York State Common Core English Language Arts Exam 2014 Form D booklets. The problem with high-stakes standardized testing is that what might begin as a good-intentioned attempt at assessing our students turns into an invasive epidemic that infests our schools.
I am lucky to work at a school where the administration is good about laying off teachers in regards to teaching to the test. I have never felt any pressure to teach to the test other than a week or two before the test. Even then, the pressure seems much lighter than what I hear other teachers experience at other schools.
I should clarify that the picture is not as perfect as it seems. Yes, the pressure is low on teachers to teach to the test, but that is because the administration decides to channel their pressure toward our students. Day after day, students are constantly being reminded by our AP roaming the halls that the state tests are coming sooner rather than later and that they are going to be harder than ever. This is the narrative that gets fed to our students as soon as the school year starts. Although their intentions may be different, our administration creates an unproductive and anxious environment for our students.
This environment also produces a troubling issue. Now, my students, more so than my administration, is pressuring teachers to be taught to the test. Last year was my first full year as a teacher, and I remembered being shocked when January rolled around and my students started complaining that I was not preparing them for the state test and that I was not doing enough test prep. It became clear to that the pervasive specter of high-stakes standardized testing had reached students, and now they were expecting school to be a place where they were taught to the test rather than taught to learn. To further complicate the matter, talks with my students’ parents were not productive. My students are all Latino, and their parents tend to have attitudes that value a rigorous and exacting education above all else. When the issue of standardized testing would come up, it was clear that they expected me to hammer them with platitudes about the importance and significance of the tests. They would encourage me to teach to the test and ask how best to prepare their daughter or son for the test. My students were clearly getting signals from all angles that the test, and not learning, was what mattered.
The small bright side to this situation was that once I started doing test prep, my students were more than happy to learn how to take the test. I cannot know for sure whether this was genuine excitement or relief that they were finally being given skills that would help them succeed during the test. What I do know, however, is that my school’s approach is not beyond saving, nor is any other school in a similar situation. My administration’s efforts to not pressure teachers to teach to the test goes a long way to ensure that myself and my colleagues are teaching what we feel is most important to our students. It is also important that our students are made aware of the state tests. They live in a world of standardized testing, and they need to realize that they are being judged based on tests that removed from the classroom and removed from reality. What our students do not need is the constant hounding and looming reminder that the test is coming and their academic lives depend on their preparation for the test. Our students are smart; all students are smart. Let them learn, not worry. That formula is sure to produce more successful students than one of stress and anxiety ever will.