Opinion

Tests won’t solve education woes | Cindy Prescott

My grandson is adorable and as smart as a whip.

He was able to read and write before he started kindergarten this year. He does very well in his academics and has just loved school so far. But something happened this last week that was sad and surprising to me as a grandma and as a teacher.

My little grandson was terrified about taking a test.

Can it truly be that our kindergarteners are feeling the stress of high stakes tests at their tender age?

Yes, even our littlest ones in the public school system are feeling worried these days. It’s sad, but isn’t that the result of the accountability that we need in order to bring American test scores up with those of other countries?

An interesting article was published in the Atlantic newspaper last week by Derek Thomas, senior editor. It’s called, “Why Gloomy Pundits and Politicians Are Wrong About America’s Education System.” In the article, based on a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, the author says American policymakers and reformers are making simplistic decisions about education. International test scores are being compared without a full accounting of the striking differences between countries.

Thomas says, “Why break down international test scores by social class? In just about every country, poor students do worse than rich students. America’s yawning income inequality means our international test sample has a higher share of low-income students, and their scores depress our national average.” This difference amounts to a poverty rate of approximately 5 percent in Finland (the top performing country on recent international tests) and approximately 20 percent in the United States.

What? Again, poverty is the excuse? No, because excuses shouldn’t be part of a conversation about public education. But this information does provide an explanation of what is happening in American schools that should be taken into account in the discussions we have about where to go next. More standardized tests with high stakes consequences that scare our children will not work as well as addressing the issues that cause some of our students to enter school behind others in their academic abilities.

The failure of top administrators to take a closer look at what these test scores really show means children like my precious grandson will continue to be afraid of taking a test. Teachers will continue to feel sad and demoralized about how their students react to these tests that don’t address the root of the problem, and just serve to cause distress.

When teachers express their concern about the direction of school reform, people may wonder if teachers are afraid to be accountable. I can assure you as a teacher that we care excessively about accountability. Every time we mark our report cards we care excessively about how every single student is doing.

What teachers ask for is to be included in the conversation with top administrators and reformers. Last week in Seattle, teachers were standing up for what they know children need when they spoke out against the MAP test. We’re the educational experts in the field and we really know what’s happening with our children. We know what is needed because we work with our students every day. We know it’s not right for our children to be afraid.

Cindy Prescott is a fourth grade teacher at Crestwood Elementary School and vice president of the Kent Education Association. She has been teaching in the Kent School District for 15 years.

 

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