Testing crowds out teaching

Miss Brave has no time to teach reading to second graders: She’s too busy testing and retesting.

. . . poor Azul has taken to hanging around the desk where I am conferencing with other students, wearing his best puppy dog face, clutching his B books and saying, “When you teach me? I want be C!” Hmm, does anyone know how to say, “I’m sorry, Azul, but I can’t work with you individually to give you the help that you need in English and in reading because my bosses at this school just told me I need to listen to your classmates read long lists of high-frequency words for the second time in two months even though it’s highly unlikely that their skills have improved in that time because I haven’t gotten the chance to actually teach them anything” in Arabic?

Her administrators seem to think she has a Harry Potter time-expanding device that will let her teach reading even though she’s pulled out of her class to cover other classes, proctor exams and go to professional development.  In class, she’s interrupted by “announcements, crying children, bleeding children, fighting children, field trips” and fire drills. And testing.

About Joanne


  1. I read Ms. Brave’s post and I am struck by the lack of communication in her school–which appears to be fairly typical. While her focus is on the lack of communication coming her way (last minute memo, for instance), it seems to be more generalized than that. She goes to the principal who refers her to the reading specialist, who, it is assumed, takes responsibility for nothing. Someone who posted a response had her undies in a bunch because she was supposed to evaluate her kindergartners (“Dibels them”) during the first week of school to put them into reading groups.

    And then there was some problem with using the data that had been garnered from the initial testing because “they took it away.” In other words, the teacher didn’t keep a copy.

    While NCLB and testing appear to be the most common targets for everything wrong in schools today–it looks to me as though the bigger problem is that no one is working together. Such things as planning in advance the schedule (meaning frequency, not just where it falls on the calendar) of testing and appropriateness are not taking place. Certainly one option is to use some of the district-wide testing in place of teacher created assessments for the purposes of grades–or to use whatever levelled system is determining who the B’s and the C’s are in place of reading word lists.

    My experience (pre-NCLB) in trying to get some consistent measures of reading level written into my son’s IEP showed me that teachers were all over the place in the selection of instruments. Some preferred word lists, some preferred levelled readers, some used various other diagnostics. The end result was that I never had any clue if he was progressing from year to year. Standardizing evaluative instruments may mean giving up some personal preferences–but in the end should provide much more useful (in the sense of being able to guide instruction) data.

    I honestly don’t know how to go about getting teachers to give up their distrust and sense of condescension towards anyone in a position of authority–but I do know that this is absolutely necessary to arrive at an atmosphere that allows for collaboration.

  2. Oh for the halcyon pre-NCLB days! Before this dreadful emphasis on testing! In those golden days nothing as crude and nuanceless as mere numbers stood in the way of pure, genuine learning!

    Let’s all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”.

  3. Margo/Mom, I’m struck by your comment that all your son’s teachers preferred different methods of evaluation, which made it difficult for you to measure your son’s progress from year to year. The assessment that’s causing me so much agony this year is a new assessment in our school, so I have no way to measure my students’ progress from last year, and who knows if we’ll still be using this next year. As I’m doing the second round of assessments, I’m noticing that my students are reading some words correctly that they read incorrectly last time, which is great. BUT, I’m also noticing that they’re miscuing words they read correctly last time! So…is this test really an accurate measure of their abilities? Or is it measuring how distracted they happen to be on that day?