The Coastal Packet: A Maine teacher on standardized tests

Saturday, March 28

A Maine teacher on standardized tests

Emily Talmage has seven years of teaching experience in New York City and Maine, as well as a masters degree in urban education from Mercy College and a masters degree in developmental psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Emily Talmage, Washington Post -  As a teacher of 20 vibrant, curious, and, yes, often challenging fourth graders at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine, I constantly search for ways to improve my students’ learning experiences and to understand what will best help them succeed.  So, like many teachers around the state, as I began hearing about the new Smarter Balanced Tests (or MEA) that we are required to give our students this spring, I wanted to know how it would help me with the daily task of getting twenty learners to grow their hearts and minds in meaningful ways.

Here is a brief summary of what I have discovered.

First, no matter what my students and I do, statistics have already shown that my students will more than likely fall below proficient on this test.  In the field test given a year ago, 91 percent of English Language Learners and nearly 80 percent of low-income students did not meet proficient.  My class is comprised of 40 percent English language learners and nearly 100 percent are low-income.  Because new state legislation (required by the federal government if we are to keep valuable sources of funding) has already passed that will link my students results to my professional evaluation, this does not bode well for me or for my colleagues....

Second, “assessment experts” (which seem to be primarily business consultants) within major, for-profit corporations like McGraw-Hill, AIR, and ETS were at the forefront of developing these tests.  Throughout the process, some teachers were asked for “input” (I was not one of them and I don’t know any teachers who were), but I have found it impossible to discern in what way this input was actually applied.  Instead, a number of math and literacy experts have said publicly that many test items are far above grade level and are developmentally inappropriate.....

Finally, I will not be able to see the test as my students take it.  I will not be allowed to look at their scrap paper. I will not even be able to talk with my colleagues about the test – before, during, or after.  These are all provisions outlined in a lengthy security agreement that all teachers were required to sign prior to administering the test.

So, how will a test that by its design is likely show that my school, my students and I are all failing, that was developed by “assessment experts” rather than teachers, that will no doubt funnel a tremendous amount of taxpayer money to wealthy corporate shareholders and away from our classrooms, and that I won’t be able to see or discuss with my colleagues (let alone my students) help me in my mission to improve the quality of education I offer my students each day?

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