Isabella Oleschuck, a Grade 7 students at Amity Middle School, ran away from home last Sunday because, she told her parents, she was stressed out about taking the Connecticut Mastery Tests.
I’m willing to bet that Isabella isn’t alone in her fears of standardized tests and the immense pressure from both parents, schools, and affects on possible future plans including academic streaming.
Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, argues that the problem stems from the new federal government’s approach to throw money at schools and school boards whose students perform well in standardized testing situations. It’s all part of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program.
Stories like Isabella’s make me appreciate the situation in our neck of the woods, and the undercurrent is something that we need to seriously be conscious of as we enter into our collective bargaining with the Province and our respective school districts. Research shows that merit pay doesn’t work. Complete teacher autonomy and professional development has revealed mixed results. And while holding schools and teachers accountable IS an important part of any government education regulation (Hey, I want to know that my kids are getting from their small rural elementary school all that they should.) there still seems to be no logical rationale for standardized tests or an understanding of the emotional and psychological effects that they appear to create.
Indeed, the “how” seems to be the most ellusive of all answers when we try to justify the need for standardized tests in the public education system.
I do know that after having just read Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, extrinsic motivation (like losing your job because your students tanked the standardized test) only works for so long. How about money? Surely if you paid teachers more they would produce better students results? Nope. Money works only up to a point, too.
Not much really happens. At least there’s no improvement in performance. In some instances, extrinsic motivators like money, actually destroy motivation and result in poorer performance.
Each year in British Columbia, the Foundation Skills Assessment, is a standardized test taken by all students in Grades 4 and 7. The test results are made public and each school is ranked according to the final results. Great, if you’re St. George’s School and near the top of the heap year after year. Not so great if you’re continually at the bottom as are many on-reserve and remote rural schools. And, of course, there has been a long standing history of opposition by the teachers in this province to the invigilation of the FSAs. Oppositionly, the Ministry of Education claims that “[t]he main purpose of the assessment is to help the province, school districts, schools and school planning councils evaluate how well students are achieving basic skills, and make plans to improve student achievement. FSA is designed and developed by British Columbia educators. The skills tested are linked to the provincial curriculum and provincial performance standards.”
Until the stakeholders (including the students themselves!) all agree on the best way for students to demonstrate the mastery of basic academic skills other than by standardized testing methods, more students like Isabella, will continual to stress out over us making them take tests that have no real meaning, and then using the scores to grade them, their schools, and their teachers.