A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

 In Their Own Words

(LIOO has launched a campaign called “In Their Own Words,” the purpose of which is to collect and share stories from students, parents and educators about their experience with high stakes testing, common core and market based reforms in their classrooms and homes.)

High-stakes standardized testing seems to have the support of many local, state, and national educational leaders including the President, members of Congress, a majority of governors, state legislatures, and boards of education. Thanks to the Race to the Top program, and other incentivized measures, New York State recieved  $700 million+  tying students to draconian tests, common core and evaluating teachers on the same.

But, the climate of high stakes testing is not without debate.

Noticeably missing from education policy decision making and discussion, are the students themselves whose opinions and feelings seem to have been summarily dismissed in favor of placating corporate edu reformers fetish with numbers and skewed data.

High stakes standardized testing can be an extremely stressful experience for students so much so that teachers have been given instructions on how to handle a test that has literally been vomited on. 

NYSAPE has partnered with several public education advocacy groups to ask local teacher organizations to support the “refusal” of the educationally inappropriate state assessments in grades 3-8. http://www.nysape.org/resolution-to-support-the-ldquoi-refuserdquo-movement.html – See more at: http://www.nysape.org/#sthash.KELxWYPr.dpuf

Indeed, across the country, teachers, principals and parents are pushing back against  test mania in and harmful testing practices in the form of “civil disobedience”.

“The “opt out” movement has exploded in schools across the state and other regions of the country, as students, parents and teachers resist the standardized testing regime that has fueled a free-market assault on public education.”

“We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.”

One teacher asked her seventh-graders how they felt about the tests. The word “scared” came up multiple times, as did the word “hate.” “I feel nervous,” said one, “because you think you’re not going to pass.” Another protested, “I don’t think tests show our learning, and they don’t show our growth.” A third stated, “It makes it more possible to fail.” http://www.thenation.com/blog/179214/teachers-and-students-opt-out-defy-testing-machine

Although many believe high stakes tests to be central to efforts to raise school accountability and student achievement, these tests are accompanied by numerous liabilities.

Some of these liabilities include the following:

(1) High stakes tests are used with increasing frequency in spite of the fact that there is no research that links increased testing with increased reading achievement;

2) High stakes tests are limited in their ability to describe students’ reading achievement;

(3) High stakes tests may be harmful to students’ self-esteem and motivation;

(4) High stakes tests confine and constrict reading curriculum;

(5) High stakes tests alienate teachers;

6) High stakes tests disrupt high quality teaching and learning; and

(7) High stakes tests demand significant allocation of time and money that could be otherwise used to increase reading achievement.

Adult reports aside, little is known about children’s thoughts and feelings related to high-stakes testing.

I recently came across an interesting study that explored elementary students’ perceptions of high-stakes testing and feeliings.

When asked how high stakes testing makes them feel,  children described feeling a great deal of emotional and physical stress manifesting in, but not limited to, nervousness, sweating, stomachaches, loss of sleep and in some cases even vomiting.

The students were asked to share their feelings usings words and drawings.

The results were disturbing.


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Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 12.11.31 AMThe recurring words that expressed emotions included: “nervous,” “mad,” “sad,” “frustrated,” “hate,” “confused,” “bored,” “tired,” “sweating,” and “sleepy.” Although not specifically emotions, other related terms that were frequently used to describe the tests were “too long,” “hard,” “easy,” “dumb,” and “crazy.”

“Nervous” was the emotion most frequently discussed. In fact, nervousness was so prevalent that, in addition to many correct spellings of the word, the authors found ten different misspellings, including “nurves,” “nerves,” “nervise,” “nerveous,” “nurvse,” “nevour,” “nervos,” “nervious,” “nevios,” and “neverous.”  Students were nervous about not having enough time to finish, not being able to figure out the answers, and not passing the test.

Anger was also a common emotion.

Smiles were nearly non existent.

These findings convincingly support previous research reporting that elementary
children experience high levels of nervousness, worry, and anxiety about
high-stakes testing.

Likewise, expressions of anger and isolation were compelling sentiments.

From the study:

This prevailing negativity in the students’ drawings and written responses
was unexpected. We thought it was possible, that for many of the children, the
high-stakes testing experience would be basically meaningless. We suspected
that, for good students, high-stakes testing could conceivably be a rewarding
experience in which they would experience confidence and affirmation. This
was not the case. Positive experiences were rarely described. “

Although the authors purport to offer advice on how to make changes in classrooms and schools to help ease test anxiety, it is clear that the reccommendations are vague, superficial and insufficient.

Truth be told, the only way to truly alleviate the harmful effects of high stakes testing is to refuse the test.

You can read the  full study here.

Please consider sharing your (child’s) opinion, feeling and experiences with high stakes testing by participating in the “In Their Own Words” project.






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