[ Teaching & Learning ]

Test distress: Standardized tests detract from learning


igh-stakes testing has been monopolizing classroom time since elementary school. Educators have long said the overemphasis on test scores detracts from students’ learning experience, and legislators are beginning to take notice.

Earlier this year, Congressman Jamaal Bowman unveiled the More Teaching, Less Testing Act. The bill limits testing requirements, gives states more options when it comes to assessments, and unlocks funding for Title I schools. Taken in total, the proposed legislation would foster more high-quality learning and eliminate disparities that so often contribute to poor test scores.

At this year’s Representative Assembly, delegates voted overwhelmingly to support a special order of business calling for an end to overtesting. The special order, which marks the latest effort in an ongoing battle over the role standardized tests should play in children’s learning and in teachers’ professional development, calls for the support of Congressman Bowman’s More Teaching, Less Testing Act and other bills like it that prioritize teaching over test prep.

NYSUT President Melinda Person introduced the special order of business at the RA: “In the words of Congressman Bowman, ‘We need a revolution in our public schools that unlocks the brilliance of all our kids and cultivates a generation equipped to take on 21st century challenges.’”

NYSUT President Melinda Person (left) speaks into a microphone while standing beside AFT President Randi Weingarten (right) at the 2023 Representative Assembly
El-Wise Noisette
At this year’s Representative Assembly, NYSUT President Melinda Person, left, urges delegates to back legislation and support policies that limit the use of high-stakes tests for retention, program placement, high school graduation decisions, teacher evaluations or school rating systems. At right: AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Person denounced an education system so focused on “accountability” that children are losing the “rich, meaningful public education” that prepares them for the future, and she urged delegates to back the legislation and support policies that limit the use of high-stakes tests for retention, program placement, high school graduation decisions, teacher evaluations or school rating systems.

Delegates did not need much coercion to get on board. Most have seen firsthand the negative consequences overtesting can have on students and teachers, and say they are eager to find alternatives.

“I hope the legislation passes,” said Kim Chesko, Pittsford District Teachers Association. “State tests just take so much out of students, and they do not give anything back.” As time consuming as state tests are, they do not offer feedback teachers can use to help those students, she said. “It is just a huge waste of time and resources.”

Other educators criticized state tests for being unreliable. “It’s robbing our students of independent thought and it’s forcing them to meet arbitrary standards that aren’t a measure of who they truly are or will be,” said Troy TA’s Beth Willson.

Speak up, speak out
Visit https://mac.nysut.org/action/809 and urge lawmakers to support an end to overtesting.

“Testing is a moving target, and it doesn’t accurately measure who my students are, or what they’re capable of,” said Trevor Beames of the Afton TA. Beames said his district is in a community that struggles with poverty and a lack of education. Overcoming that stigma is time-intensive work for teachers, he said. Educators must make lessons fun, relevant and impactful, and that can be hard if they have to spend all their time chasing higher test scores.

Teachers from wealthier districts took issue with mandatory testing, too. “Testing is a meaningless metric that we continue to use out of tradition. It drives the curriculum and eliminates teachers’ creativity,” said Alyson Tina, Ardsley Congress of Teachers. Her district is in an affluent Westchester County community, and most students do well on the tests, she said, adding that performance metrics should be determined on a local or regional level, to allow for maximum flexibility and put teachers back in the driver’s seat.

“We’re moving away from academics to something altogether new,” said Savitri Dindial, United Federation of Teachers. “We’re teaching our students to be good test takers, not critical thinkers. That has to change.”