Should the future of Georgia’s children be determined by CEO’s set to make billions off testing, Politicians driven by campaign contributions or Parents and Educators? The GA legislature is set to make big changes this week in education in how the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES) will evaluate educators. Matt Underwood, Director of Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, wrote about TKES early in its inception and pointed out that while there are positives to the program such as ongoing reflection on teaching domains, TKES is flawed in many areas. It has taken the Ga Legislature a few years to catch up to what Underwood and most other educators knew 3 years ago.
Basically, while there is agreement that TKES has some strong positives in the form of teacher goal setting and continual reflection of practice, too much emphasis is placed on standardized test scores.
Testing Ga Kids
Recently, the Georgia TKES system has come under a lot of scrutiny during this 2016 legislative session due to the high percentage of the teacher’s evaluation score (50%) that is determined solely by student test performance. This may have been catalyzed , at least in part, by the release of the results of a survey of 53,000 GA educators which revealed major unrest and dissatisfaction in the profession and uncovered that 47% of teachers in Georgia leave the classroom within the first 5 years. Teachers commonly stated they feel “devalued and under increasing pressure” (AJC) The number one reason why teachers leave the profession that they cited in the survey was “Number of state mandated tests” with “Method for evaluating teachers” as a close second.
That is all about to change….well some of it is about to change….ok- maybe it isn’t going to change…we will just have to wait and see which of the new bills actually make it through the session and which discussion are driven by election year politics. We do know that the discussion is moving in the better direction for students and teachers are fighting back for the kids they love.
One of the most interesting issues uncovered by this legislative session is how much talk is being focused on the teacher evaluation part and not on the question of the testing itself. This is especially since research shows, as Edelstein points out in his article , “Intensive standardized testing not only causes stress in students, but may undermine learning.” So why all the focus on reducing the percentage for evaluation and not on reducing the number of tests the students take?
Testing has become a major industry and companies are benefiting in the billions from testing students. In 2002, Brown Center for Education Policy determined that collectively states spend 1.7 BILLION annually on student assessment. The spending is distributed primarily (89%) to 6 major testing vendors with Pearson bringing in the highest payday. More testing means more revenue for these companies. The money is then filtered back to politicians in the form of campaign support which in turn influences them to approve more testing. It is a vicious cycle veiled in concern for student progress and said to measure teacher effectiveness. In all actuality, it is a major industry and it is being fed by our children.
Our educational system is now relying more than ever on standardized tests that compare students to one another as the dominant assessment instrument. This tendency has forced teachers at all grade levels to “orient students to performance goals and comparative standards of excellence instead of internal mastery goals,” says Scott Paris, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. The emphasis on external goals, Paris suggests, has created an unhealthy classroom scenario in which “standardized tests provoke considerable anxiety among students that seems to increase with their age and experience.”
So how do we fit in all of this new testing and assessment into the regular school day? According to the US News and World Report, one of the first things to suffer- the arts. During high stakes testing, non-academic classes are sacrificed. Next, P.E. and Recess are limited at our Elementary schools and our high schools are scheduling students for Math support instead of a PE class or Construction to get them to pass the test needed to graduate. In the end, our numbers may look better on paper due to these sacrifices but are they worth the cost?
Of course Georgia is not the only state facing testing challenges and conundrums. The Washington Post did an amazing job detailing the testing situation in Florida. While the post focuses on numbers and statistics from the Sunshine state, most of the content is interchangeable with what we are seeing in the Peach state. Other states are also looking for solutions.
A Texas school recently tripled the recess time for 5-6 year olds and the initial response and the teachers were nervous. They weren’t worried about the kids mental or physical health or whether the change would be perceived positively by the students, they knew the answers to those questions. They were worried about their ability to teach all of the information that the students needed for their end of grade tests.
According to the article in Today, they were all relieved and thrilled that the change is actually helping kids focus in the classroom and making instructional time more effective. Less time in the classroom= more effective instruction? Can this be right? As the school has shown, when allowing students (especially 5-6 year olds) time to move around, play and socialize with peers, they are less likely to exhibit those same wiggly social behaviors during instruction and are able to focus better. Research indicates “first and second graders can study no more than 15 minutes without needing a short break and third through six graders require a break after 20 to 30 minutes of studying”. Looks like the school in Texas has figured out that a few of those breaks could be recess and they are showing that it is benefiting students and teachers in unforeseen ways.
So if you have made it this far in the article, you are probably an education stakeholder. My guess is that you are a teacher, married to a teacher, a parent, grandparent or an administrator. In short, you care about kids and how we are educating them and you are tuned in to current educational trends and legislation. You are an Expert! Yes- You!! Not a CEO of a company who makes millions on testing! Not a politician being fueled by campaign contributions! Experts are the individuals who are the most invested in the Education of our Children.
As one of these experts, you see first hand how this emphasis on testing is affecting our education system. The question now is:
What can you do to make a difference?
My hope is that you express your expert opinion and contact your congressman and state senator in support of these new anit-testing bills by clicking here. You could also help spread the word by sharing this article on social media by clicking one of the icons or going to GeorgiaSTEM’s facebook page and clicking like and share.
It is up to all of us to stop generating millions of revenue for testing companies by continuously stressing and overtesting children and driving educators to other professions! Only when we move away from testing and back to delivering engaging instruction, such as STEM labs, can we truly mold the minds of our future world. Can you help?
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