Testing Season Blues

Teachers teach to the test. It’s a fact. Let’s just own it.

They don’t teach so that your kids understand the material. They teach so that they don’t get fired for having lost test scores. Now how in the name of goodness could teachers be fired for test scores during a teaching crisis? Because schools lose even more funding if they get low test scores. Is this fair? No. It isn’t fair to judge a student’s entire year based on their performance on a single day. By the same token, it’s socioeconomically impossible to find two identical schools with the same balance of needs, same population, same distribution of wealth, same ethnic balancing, or the same anything. But it’s still okay to stack the test scores of one school against the other and think it determines the value of their teachers?

Fine, okay. We have to somehow ensure that some standards are met.

I mean, we have to make sure no one is teaching their kids that magic crystals govern the movements of oceans in tune with the good vibrations they channel into them, right?

But what high stakes testing does isn’t measuring to ensure standards are met. If it was a simple report card, then principals could act on what they see, but it is one linked to actual performance at the state level. Furthermore, the failure of a district (which could still be outside of the district’s control) could follow a teacher throughout her career. That’s silly.

So how do teachers handle this?

One of two ways:

First, they can place insane amounts of stress on children to perform, not that there is anything in it for the kids because rewarding positive outcomes is strictly forbidden (rich schools can incentivize more, so it’s actually pretty fair that way). This coupled with telling them to relax and that everything will be okay, while subconsciously communicating to them that if they fail the teacher’s life will be over. Of all the outcomes, you get kids ripped from their classrooms into totally foreign environments where the teachers walk around like prison guards trying to telepathically relay the answers to their children. Some kids aren’t bothered, but then there are the others. The others are the kids who will freak out, have a panic attack, or who simply don’t care and are willing to fail to see the world burn. Yeah, there are monsters. But the problem is that there enough of these second two groups to completely break the average. Awesome.

Then there is the second option: Cheat. Look, you make the stakes high enough and the situation desperate enough, people are going to cheat.  You tell someone that their job and the food in their kid’s bellies comes down to the performance of 60 kids they have only had access to for about 1 hour a day for about 100 days before testing season starts… Teachers are human and some will take the low road.


This is part of a series on Education in Oklahoma:

Start at the Beginning


Thank you for reading. If you liked this series, please like and follow The War Elephant on Facebook. This page is made possible by donations through the social funding site Patreon. If you want to help me make more content like this, please visit my Patreon Support Page to support the page.

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