Well, it’s that time of year again. Valentine’s Day is my calendar marker for the season of angst in education. Assessment season is in full swing across the country. In every nook and cranny of the United States, students make there way to classrooms to dive into the next assessment on the calendar. The span from the end of January to the first weeks of February is the typical launching point for assessing students on a variety of things.
Ahhh, the smell of assessments in February is like Napalm on the battlefield because that is what assessment season has turned into. Assessments in schools create an atmosphere of hostility. Students don’t enjoy it, teachers don’t enjoy it, and administrators don’t enjoy it. Stop by any school on assessment day or during assessment week, and you will see what I mean. Assessment is not the same as test. A test is what you take after a unit is completed in a class. It is teacher created and driven by the content of the classroom over a shorter period of time. An assessment is created in a secret lab by people who are chained up in a district office or state agency basement and kept against there will until the task is completed. They are sworn to secrecy in a blook oath ceremony; their children are threatened.
Tests have an answer key and immediate feedback from teachers within days. Teachers make their own copies of the test for their classroom and review key elements the day before, quite often using a study guide to help the students recall needed information. Assessments, on the other hand, are delived by armored car under the close supervision of men in black suits carrying M-16s. Teachers are not made aware of the exact contents of the assessment until the mad scramble the day of the assessment, when administrators are given authority to hand over the documents with stern warnings and declarations of hostility should an assessment be misused, misplaced, or misread. Upon completion of the assessments, there is paperwork for teachers to sign and forms to fill out. Last week, I thought I was signing papers for a house not turning in materials for an assessment. Then, teachers sit and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. The results may not come for months, and in some instances it can be after the last day of school when students find out their results.
What most parents don’t realize is that the assessment of our students takes its toll long before the day the student takes it. Teachers map out their year according to when their particular assessment or assessments take place. Field trips are put on hold because of assessments. Computer labs are booked solid so students can practice the assessment long before they take it. The assessment season is really much longer, because teachers need to spend lots of time prepping students for what lies ahead. Don’t get me wrong; assessments are needed to some extent, but the amount of assessing of students has become a nightmare. This nightmare is not just for teachers but students, as well.
Students lose out on a lot due to assessments. With scores being so important, teachers teach template writing that doesn’t allow students to take risks with their own creativity. Because of the prepping that needs to be done, students don’t have access to technology like they should. Teachers compete in Hunger Game-like activities to secure computer labs for preparation for assessments. Students have also become numb to assessing. Their give-a-care meter drops to nothing because they know the drill. Have you ever heard a car alarm going off? When was the last time you ran to see what was going on to make sure things were okay? The word “assessment” to a student is like a random car alarm in a parking lot to us. Everyone knows it’s going off, but nobody really cares or worries about it.
The real problem with assessments revolves around one important issue that most district leaders and state government beaurocrats don’t want to admit or just plain don’t get. The assessment is nowhere near what happens in real life. How often do you do math for something without the use of a calculator? When was the last time you picked up a dictionary to figure out how a word was spelled? Have you ever turned off spell-check and grammar check before typing up a simple email, let alone an important document for your work? No! No! No! And yet, this is how we assess students. It’s crazy! We are assessing students in an archaic form with out-dated methods. When was the last time you did your driving test on a bicycle? And don’t get me started on the cost to everyone for these assessments. The state of Nebraska spent $25 million dollars on a new five-year contract with a company to implement the state’s writing test, and things didn’t go so well this year.
I don’t have all bad news for you, though. As teachers finish their individual assessment periods, an amazing thing happens in the classroom. Students continue to learn, but it is at a greater pace! The completion of my assessment is like a weight has been lifted from my classroom. I can teach again! Oh, I taught before, but my teaching was more structured to what might be on the assessment, not always what students need to know. In addition, I was always looking up at the calendar and feeling the time crunch for what was coming. Now, the assessment has come and gone, and the birds are chirping once more. The chains of a looming assessment are broken.
And for those of you who think these assessments should be tied to some kind of performance pay, well, that is for another time. Would you punish a dentist because his patients have too many cavities? Isn’t that the only way you can “assess” whether or not the dentist is doing his/her job effectively.
Assessments are killing district budgets, school morale, and student creativity. Assessments are killing education!
(Disclaimer: This essay was typed using the rules of most state writing assessments. No spell check, no grammar check, no fact checking, not printed out to revise, not shared with anyone prior to submission, not read aloud, and it was completed in 90 minutes or less. I did break one rule. I am pretty sure it is too long. What scorer wants to read a lengthy essay?)