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The Buildup of Standardized Testing Pressure

If You Teach in the 21st Century, You Certainly Feel the Pressure

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If you're in education in the 21st Century, I'm willing to bet you feel the pressure of standardized test scores, no matter where you teach in the United States. The pressure seems to come from all sides:
  • The District
  • Parents
  • Administrators
  • The Community
  • Your Colleagues
  • Yourself
Sometimes it feels like you can't take a moment away from the hard-core academic subjects in order to teach so-called "non-essentials," like music, art, or physical education. These subjects are frowned-upon by the people who meticulously monitor test scores. Time away from math, reading, and writing is seen as time wasted. If it doesn't directly lead to improved test scores, you aren't encouraged, or sometimes even allowed, to teach it.

I'd like to think that I'm only speaking for myself or the teachers in my state on this issue. But, I feel confident that that's not the case. In California, school rankings and scores are published in the newspapers and discussed by the community. School's reputations are made or broken by the bottom line, numbers printed in black and white on newsprint. It's enough to make any teacher's blood pressure rise at the thought of it.

These are some of the things I've heard teachers say over the years about standardized test scores and the pressures surrounding student performance:

  • "I did just fine in school and life, even though my teachers didn't emphasize achievement on tests."
  • "It's only one test - why does it matter so much?"
  • "I don't even have time to teach Science or Social Studies any more!"
  • "I start teaching Test Preparation the first week of school."
  • "It's not fair that we're 'graded' on how our students do on this test, when all we can do is present the information to them. We can't help how they will actually do on Test Day!"
  • "My principal's on my back this year because my students didn't so well last year."
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to teacher's opinions on this controversial issue. Money, prestige, reputation, and professional pride are all at stake. Administrators seem to be getting additional pressure to perform from the district bosses which the principals, in turn, pass down to their staff. No one likes it and most people think it's all irrational, yet the pressure is snowballing and increasing exponentially.

The purpose of this article is not to complain or whine. I simply wanted to open up the topic for discussion. I've never mentioned Standardized Tests in the four and a half years that I've worked on this site. It seems to be the pink elephant sitting in everyone's classroom. We're all a slave to test scores, but we're not supposed to talk about it frankly.

Please share your tips and ideas for what we, as classroom teachers, can actually do to make the best of a pressure-filled, politically-charged situation that's gone out of control. I'd love to hear your thoughts on testing and how you deal with it. Join the discussion on our Message Board.

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