May 16, 2023
This is the ninth in a series of guest blogs by the 2022-23 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Carl Brownlee is a social studies teacher at Fisher Magnet Upper Academy in Detroit Public Schools Community District.
After the surreal COVID era ended, we missed an excellent opportunity to reset and reimagine our current construct about standardized testing. Our country’s mindset of “get back to normal” at all costs placed our students and educators at a disadvantage. Instead of going back to what we know, I would have loved to see something profound, such as placing a moratorium on standardized testing for a five-year period. Imagine how we could have created a new paradigm to improve or remove standardized testing.
Every year, there is the promise of testing reform, but changes are rarely implemented. Buzzwords like “student well-being” and “self-care” are thrown around at maximum speed and yield minimal results. Standardized testing is a major stressor for students, teachers and administrators. This time of the year creates massive anxiety for everyone involved.
Multitudes of standardized tests, the world outside of education, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and apathy are some of the biggest challenges facing our youth as they are required to demonstrate proficiency and mastery. If these challenges continue, standardized test scores will continue to spiral out of control. There is no single panacea to correct all the ills of standardized testing, but this is a plea to the Test Gods to give them something to think about.
Less Is More (Reduce Test Fatigue)
When a person exercises, they must be cautious and conscious of overtraining their body. Overtraining your muscles causes the body to regress, and you get poor results. This same concept can be applied to testing students. We cannot continue to bombard students with multiple standardized tests. Overwhelmed students taking multiple standardized tests in one school year will continue to have decayed proficiency and mastery results. I have had the unpleasant experience of giving my students multiple standardized tests in a month, and in some cases, they have had to take multiple tests in a single week. Sadly, the goal was not about students’ proficiency or mastery but our compliance with district protocol. Students “check out” when they are blitzed with too many standardized tests.
The World Outside of Education
Teachers cannot compete with social media and the culture of America. Our culture does not promote education like other countries around the world. Our testing system has matriculated into a quagmire. The latest TikTok dance, a game of “Call of Duty” or a viral video grab most students’ attention convincingly better than the best lesson planned by teachers. The average student spends at least 40 hours or more with digital media. Our young people today are wired very differently than previous students. I stand by and watch as students’ eyes glaze over when faced with the challenge of reading and answering 40 to 60 questions in a two-hour window. This a recipe for disaster because most will just click and move on to the next answer without any reservation or hesitation, their goal is to complete the test in the fastest way possible.
Sugar & Salt
Try fueling your vehicle up with water, and, of course, the vehicle would not run, and the engine would be destroyed. Children who have diets lacking in fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins tend to have lower test scores than their peers, and hunger can lead to children missing school or having to repeat grades, according to the report “How Diet and Nutrition Impact a Child’s Learning Ability.”
Most students’ diets include a constant stockpile of sugar and salt. Young people have an insatiable appetite for junk food with little nutritional value. Eating poorly has a direct correlation to poor test scores.
Lack of Sleep
The CDC reports
55% of middle school students sleep fewer than six hours a night. Also over 70% of high school students sleep fewer than six hours a night.
The CDC reports that among middle school students, 57.8% reported insufficient sleep, with nearly 12% reporting sleeping fewer than six hours a night. 72.7% reported insufficient sleep, with about 20% reporting sleeping fewer than six hours a night. In both groups studied, females fared worse than males, with 59.6% of middle school females and 75.6% of high school females reporting insufficient sleep, compared with 56% of middle school males and 69.9% of high school males.
I cannot recount the plethora of times when proctoring an M-STEP or PSAT test, and students have fallen asleep during testing. After repeatedly waking them up and instructing them to complete the test, I have resigned my fate to the little person who has not gotten enough sleep knowing the test scores are attributed to me.
I believe student apathy will be our next biggest challenge in the coming years. Many students have disconnected not only from standardized testing but the education process. If the M-STEP test does not affect their grades it does not matter to them if
they perform well. Our standardized tests do not have “high-stakes consequences” built into them, so a student can do poorly and continue to move on.
High-stakes tests like the GMAT, NCLEX and MTTC have several things in common. People need to pass these tests to move on to the next phase of their career pursuits. There is also a financial incentive to perform well on these tests because you must pay to take each test, which can become very expensive if a person must retake these examinations. A poor PSAT or MSTEP score is not going to stop a young person from moving to the next grade or hinder them in any fashion; thus, creating an apathetic attitude towards standardized testing.
What’s the Answer???
As stated earlier, there is no one panacea for standardized tests in this country but here are some thoughts from my bucket list:
- Immediate feedback after testing and allow students to retest
- Reduce the number of tests administered in a school year or switch to a national test
- Reduction in the number of questions and learning standards
- Districts should have the ability to opt-out
- Students with severe absenteeism issues should not be allowed to test
- Moratorium on standardized testing, learn from countries having success without standardized testing and create a new plan
I believe our students can achieve and become successful, contributing citizens. Our responsibility is to find new ways to “meet them where they’re at.” Not a doom and gloom rant, but we HAVE to fix standardized testing for the sake of our students and teachers. I wish we could do like Finland and end these tests. Why don’t we reset the norms?? Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and excepting different results. The way we test needs to change, and the Test Gods need a new way to evaluate today’s students.