Jamie Carroll: High-stakes testing is disservice to students and teachers


Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:21 p.m.

Like many people, I feel outraged by the actions of the teachers and administrators in the Atlanta cheating scandal. I am saddened and appalled by their dishonesty, but moreover I am sickened that a faulty educational system was the catalyst for their unconscionable choices.

I do not condone cheating in any way, and I am not trying to excuse their actions, but the fact that a bevy of teachers and administrators doctored students' test scores is indicative of the amount of pressure that teachers and students feel in regards to standardized test performance.

Evaluation of teachers and students is essential, but it is asinine to think that students' performance on standardized tests should determine school funding and reflect teachers' effectiveness. While a certain degree of testing is beneficial as a partial barometer of students' strengths and weaknesses, the assessment of success in the classroom and in life extends far beyond that which a Scantron can measure.

Last August, after six years of employment as a third grade teacher in Florida's public education system, I decided to quit my job due to the ever-increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing. The intensity and unrealistic expectations of my role as an educator increased each year, making the true purpose and beauty of teaching a lost art.

Legislation and politics dictated that I prepare small children for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a rigorous test administered during one week of the school year. This one test was supposed to determine the culmination of students' comprehension of reading and math, and their test scores determined the school grade, which ultimately affected school funding. In addition, depending on a students' grade level, test scores alone could determine their promotion to the next grade level. As a caring educator, I found myself at odds with the Catch-22 situation; high-stakes testing is a disservice to children, for true learning occurs with fluidity, creativity and curiosity, but not preparing students for “the test” was not an option in the current test-driven system.

I was fortunate to work for an elementary school that valued diversity and incorporated creativity into the curriculum, but there was no escaping the increased pressure and emphasis on mandatory testing. I continued teaching because I adored the students and tried my best to inspire and encourage them while I tailored instruction to meet their unique needs.

Despite my deep love of the students, I found myself feeling exhausted, disheartened and deflated, which was compounded whenever I read or heard something that portrayed teachers as worthless and lazy. While there are some bad teachers, just as there are some incompetent employees in every profession, most educators put hours upon hours into preparing lessons, grading, making phone calls to students' families, providing tutoring, etc. The system sets students and teachers up for failure with its disjointed attempts to “fix” education by over-testing children and determining teachers' effectiveness and pay based primarily on test scores.

As a society, we must collaborate, we must care and we must pay attention to blatant flaws in our educational system. Instead of scapegoating teachers, we must stay informed on the legislation and the big money testing that dictates what and how children learn. When a tragedy such as the Atlanta cheating scandal occurs, we must realize that it is a side effect of a flawed system, not an opportunity to disparage teachers nationwide. The current system only works in theory (even then it's flawed), but it fails in practice.

Over-testing children and requiring a one-size-fits-all approach to education leads children down one of two paths: either they learn how to become excellent test-takers with limited critical thinking skills, or they define their worth based on tests that cannot possibly measure the diverse talents and skills they possess. The true tragedy rests in the overpowering hands of an institution with a limited scope, in the meaty hands of a system that bases the worth of students and teachers solely on standardized test scores.

As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it's stupid.”

Jamie Carroll lives in High Springs.

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