New Jersey: Over-Testing is Hurting the Children It is Supposed to Help

From a teacher in New Jersey:

Testing Frenzy Steals Learning Time from Students

The public school testing frenzy is at an all-time high, and it is robbing our students of time to learn. Take it from me, an elementary school teacher from New Jersey with more than 30 years of experience. In an effort to be ready for the state-mandated PARCC tests, we are hurting the very students we most wish to help. School administrators and teachers are tasked with ensuring that state-mandated tests are properly administered. But the time it takes to plan and administer these tests takes away precious instructional time.

In the last several years, I have witnessed egregious misuses of student learning time. First, months of test prep are done in all the grades. In addition, test prep packets are sent home with students night after night. Then, PARCC testing itself lasts approximately 3½ to four weeks. After that, there are at least one if not two weeks of makeup tests.

Beginning one or two weeks before testing, support staff such as librarians and Basic Skills Instructors for reading and math are reassigned for days at a time to check equipment and do paperwork. Because these test-support teachers also monitor the tests, their classes are effectively cancelled for a month or more. Speech and occupational therapists are pulled out every morning during testing to monitor hallways.

English language learners (ELLs) have even more required testing. There’s a lengthy ELL test, ACCESS, which drags on for four to six weeks. After that, they must take the PARCC tests. As I write this in late April, ELL classes have been cancelled 49 times since the start of the school year, not including teachers’ absences. In my district we have a 185 teaching days in our school year. Do the math on lost instructional days, and remember this is time for learning that our students are legally entitled to.

And there’s more! My district has math and language arts benchmark tests at the beginning and end of the year. There are prep materials and computer-based practice tests given for a month or so prior to the state-mandated tests in grades 3-6, for about one and a half hours a day. In addition, the district has purchased a computer-based assessment for K-8 that they will begin using next year. (We have not settled our contract, but they have money for this.) I assume this will be used throughout the year to gauge progress. So still more test prep. Testing and data-driven numbers have become the single focus for districts.

The pity is that test-support teachers don’t take students when they are not monitoring the tests. What a waste of taxpayer money, not to mention students’ lost learning. Where are the administrators? Do they not know what is going on in their own schools and districts?

Knowing that most teachers are hard-working, caring individuals, I was so angered by students’ lost instructional time, I emailed the state of New Jersey. I wanted to know the minimum time requirement for support programs before they are deemed ineffective for student learning. After weeks and several follow-up emails, the state education department replied.

What I learned from the reply was that, technically, the state requires classes to continue even during testing cycles. But many principals do not enforce this, and classes are sometimes canceled by teachers. However, if the state did not require so much testing and follow-up paperwork, perhaps teachers and administrators would prioritize students’ instructional time. Nor, to my knowledge, does the state enforce its requirement.

Needless to say, other teachers are also frustrated by time lost to testing, but many are just starting their careers or otherwise do not want to speak out for fear of being be targeted by administrators. No one blames test-support teachers for doing what they are told during testing periods, but I do blame administrators for looking the other way when instruction can be given, for not abiding by the state’s recommendations, and for not providing substitutes for children in the classes that end up being canceled.

I am nearing the end of my career, so I will not hesitate to right a wrong when I see it. If we are afraid to speak out about what’s happening in our schools, how will parents ever know what their children have missed and how unlevel the playing field has become for so many students. We need noble, fair and decisive administrators to oversee well-run schools and districts, and, of course, less testing and more authentic learning.

Lisa Rodriguez

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