Why Overtesting is Unfair for Students

Taking away recess. Cutting field trips. Eliminating art and music class. Slicing out hands-on activities. Decimating a well-rounded curriculum.

Why would any school consider such actions? If you are a teacher, you know drastic measures are taken when it comes to testing. In fact, most of the country realizes that testing is a big deal. When districts struggle to meet a standard score or grade, they resort to stuffing the school day with test preparation. Even if it means deleting essential events, like those listed above.

These hands-on, interactive activities teach children valuable skills they won’t find when taking a test.

Why are standardized tests so important to schools?

Standardized test scores are tied to a school’s reputation and funding. The grades are published online and in local newspapers, so everyone knows which schools performed the “best.”

In some districts, these marks impact the teachers’ paychecks. In the business world, pay raises, bonuses, and promotions are delivered to high performers. Some districts have adopted this model and ties pay with the performance for their teachers. While there is a gymnasium’s-worth of differences between a 7-year-old and a corporation, that discussion is for another time.

Administrators await the scores and then dissect each one. Which school/grade/teacher/student received the highest mark? Yes, it is broken down that minutely.

The administration’s ideas for improving said scores are turned into a PowerPoint presentation all teachers spend two hours listening to.  The rallying call of “We must do better,” is heard time and time again.

In all fairness, the administrators are paid to deliver results, and their own job could be at stake. Perhaps they all need to read Stephen Sawchuk’s article on testing alternatives.

Why we need tests

Testing students has been done forever. Horace Mann discussed the ideas in the 1800s, although standardized testing didn’t become quite as popular until the 1960s. This is not a new idea, but the overload of tests is recent.

Tests are important. After all, we need accountability, right? We want to ensure our students have skilled teachers who utilize modern, effective methods. We desire prepared high school graduates who will benefit our society in a myriad of ways.

The problem becomes the additional tests.

  • Weekly, monthly, and quarterly reading assessments
  • Computerized phonics tests
  • Spelling quizzes
  • Math checkpoints, quizzes, and tests
  • Timed drills on math facts
  • Scored writing prompts

These are just a few of the graded activities I have given. None of them are necessarily bad, there are simply too many.

Other than exhausting everyone involved, why is this a problem?

What are the downfalls of overtesting?

In my experience, the tests do not always measure essential skills. There are specific reading skills, for example, that requires a teacher and a student to work one-on-one. When doing so, the teacher can accurately assess those skills. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

I remember giving the first reading test of the year to a new group of students. I was prepared for a lengthy demonstration of privacy folders, filling in circles, and putting your name at the top. To my astonishment, the twenty students effortlessly found pencils, set up their folders, and waited quietly.

The year before, their teachers had piloted this new reading program and all its endless test booklets. Those skilled educators taught their students how to prepare for, and take, a test. They were 6 years old.

I find it sad that their kindergarten year was filled with such mundane skills as these. This particular set of tests did not accurately assess the students. So, much of their time, in elementary school, was wasted.

That is the definition of unfairness, to me.

Miranda Perloff

Miranda Perloff

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