Toxic Testing. Hyperbole or Actuality?

Submitted by a Hilliard City School teacher

Toxic testing. Hyperbole or actuality? You decide. Merriam-Webster defines toxic as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” Students have taken tests since the invention of school. So what’s with the “toxic” label you’ve heard recently? It cannot be understated that teachers do not abhor tests. Tests are an integral part of the learning process, helping teachers to understand where their students are with presented concepts and helping to inform continuing instruction. Assessment is essential to a teacher’s purpose. We want to know whether students “get it” or not.

However, children today face a barrage of tests, both standardized and teacher-created, that reaches a level of absurdity. Beyond the tests teachers create for their students, there are: Common Formative Assessments (in each core subject with Pre and Post tests), district level diagnostic tests (MAP, SRI, etc.), SLO tests (in every “non-tested” subject with Pre and Post tests), and who could forget the impending PARCC Assessments? This year, students will face two testing sessions of PARCC in Reading and Math, while some grades also face PARCC-like tests in Science and Social Studies. This grueling testing schedule leaves precious little time for the learning that is supposedly being measured.

It is not just the increase in the number of tests, but the lack of valuable, if any, information useful to teachers sounding the alarm. Teachers receive a Scaled Score (in the case of OAAs) that tells them nothing more than whether a student passed or failed, and whether by a little or by a lot. Even this useless information does not arrive until the summer after the students have moved on to yet another year of testing. If the results did tell teachers something of value, there is nothing they could do to help those students. It is an exercise in futility.

Despite the lack of instructional value in state test results, students are subjected to high-stakes decisions based upon them. School districts, forced to comply with mandates, assign students who scored below a set Scaled Score (again in OAAs) to remedial classes or in the case of third graders, retention. There are high-stakes for high achieving students as well. Often, cut-off scores are used as prerequisites for placement in advanced classes. Additionally, high school students are required to reach a minimum score to be eligible for a diploma. These stakes are real, and their toll is high.

Within this toxic sludge of tests, students are being smothered and their education is being stolen from them.