Testing is not teaching


From: Peggy Sannerud

A recent article about standardized tests appeared in the Winona Post in which Winona Senior High Assistant Principle Dave Anderson was quoted as saying “Our testing this year with MCA and ACT – it couldn’t have gone better.”

Of course, from his perspective, the mechanics of those tests probably went just fine. But I have an 11th grade student, and I would like to point out that from the perspective of parents and students, perhaps things are not all so rosy.

High-stakes testing is often completely without benefit to an individual student. The results may not come back until long after the child has moved on, and secrecy surrounding the tests’ questions and answers is so tight that not even teachers know which questions the students missed.

Parents should be concerned about giving student data to nonprofit test companies. We have seen here in Minnesota that Pearson is susceptible to crashing and hacking.

Teachers know from experience that standardized tests disrupt class momentum and take away instruction time. Think about your own education. What do you remember? Field trips, activities, labs, art projects, science fairs, music, teachers who took extra time with you? These are the things that standardized tests take away from students. 


This May, my 11th grader’s education was interrupted for a total of six days for standardized testing. The MCA test was given in a particularly disruptive manner. One-third of the 11th graders were removed from classes for three days running. So for a one-day test, they lost three days of instruction – because what can a teacher do if one-third of her students are gone on a particular day? In all of my student’s classes, this resulted in movies or “study time.”

Mr. Anderson also did not mention the time taken this spring for AP testing. This is a test with some importance for the student, as it can result in fulfilling college requirements and aid in college scholarship pursuit. Not all students take these tests. Yet all students were inconvenienced by them, as they took place during school hours. Non-testing students once again got study time or movies.

I am also a bit critical of the organization of these tests. I, as a parent, have a right to opt my student out from standardized tests, and I have been doing so for the last five years. Yet, the school staff did not know how to handle my request to keep her from testing. I was bounced from the school office to the counseling office, to the principal, and finally to Mr. Anderson. Parents, you DO have a right to remove your student from these tests. See the website for the opt out movement at http://unitedoptout.com/state-by-state-opt-out-2/minnesota/ for material to help you understand why or how opting out might benefit your student.

Using the district calendar to determine which tests would be administered when proved to be an impossibility. The ACT test given during class time in May was not even listed on the calendar, nor was the AP test schedule. It seems to me that this information is at least as important as the school lunch menu, which is given in exacting detail for every day the school is open.

So could high-stakes testing in District 861 “go better?” Yes, Dr. West and Mr. Anderson, it can be improved by respecting the time of teachers and students when scheduling exams. Calendars could provide more complete information about which tests will be given to which groups. Redundant tests no longer needed for state graduation requirements could be removed altogether.

We can help by understanding that the district is trying to comply with directives from the state and the federal governments. We can work to convince our legislators to trust our own local teaching professionals instead of the testing corporations.

And while data and accountability are important tools for any school district, please remember that teachers in the classroom will always be better than a computer algorithm at evaluating our creative, inquisitive, thoughtful, innovative, and individual learners.

Testing is not teaching.


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