I’ve worked in public schools for decades, and I’ve seen firsthand the effects of over-testing on Pennsylvania’s students.
Time and time again, I saw it in their faces and in their body language — the stress and anxiety in some, the utter boredom and frustration in others.
And I’ve seen the same frustration in their teachers, classroom aides and support professionals. They’ve been frustrated because they know that the seemingly endless focus on standardized testing is taking away valuable instruction time — standing in the way of real teaching and real learning.
I remember a student who was so stressed about doing well on the PSSAs that she insisted on coming to school to take them even though she was sick. This child’s mother wanted to keep her daughter home from school because she was running a fever. But the girl was so scared of “failing” her PSSAs that she begged her mother to take her. The mother relented, reluctantly, and drove her in — fever and all. Only after her teachers assured her that she could take the test another day did the girl agree to go home, rest and get well.
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This is one of thousands of examples of what it means to over test our students.
And these are the kinds of stories that educators have been telling policymakers for years. That’s why I’m so excited that Gov. Tom Wolf plans to scale back the time kids spend on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests by spring 2018 — knocking that time down by 20 percent for many students.
This is welcome news for students, educators and parents.
Consider this: Standardized tests and test prep divert almost three weeks away from real classroom instruction.
By some estimates, 20-50 hours of classroom time each year are spent on student assessments, and students lose up to 110 hours each year taking and preparing for these standardized tests.
That’s simply too much.
But it’s not just the time spent on these tests that has frustrated students and educators for years. It’s also the fact that so many of us know that standardized tests aren’t the best measure of what students have actually learned in school.
What we need is the right balance of testing, teaching, and the classroom-based assessments that are directly connected to students’ daily curriculum. Gov. Wolf’s plan is an excellent, welcome, and much-needed move in that direction.
The bottom line is this: The Pennsylvania State Education Association represents education professionals who want to focus on developing and delivering a full and rich curriculum to every student, and we want to make sure that every student gets the power of a great education — every single day.
Reducing the amount of time educators and students spend on standardized testing is absolutely key to achieving this goal.
Thanks to Gov. Wolf’s leadership, Pennsylvania is finding the right balance between teaching and testing, and I’m confident that the approach we’re taking here can make our state a national leader.
This plan is good for teaching, and it’s good for learning — and that’s the most important thing of all.
Dolores McCracken is a paraprofessional in the Council Rock School District, and vice president of the 180,000-member Pennsylvania State Education Association. McCracken will become PSEA president on Sept. 2.