The Cost of High-Stakes Testing


Test anxiety affects even Grumpy Cat.

This week, I had a Sophomore tell me he wanted to drop out. 

He is an intelligent, affable, respectful, kind, and enjoyable student. He gets along with others. He works hard. He asks questions. He cares about his grades. He turns his work in and has even voluntarily come for tutorials. But he has not passed a single standardized test while in high school. 

Texas introduced a series of new standardized tests to replace the TAKS test in 2012. The End of Course (EOC) exams in high school and STAAR exams in the lower grades are meant to meet federal requirements instated with No Child Left Behind and other similar state legislation. By the most recently updated standards, students entering 11th grade next year should have passed five tests — two of which are English tests — demonstrating their proficiency in the state’s TEKS. The tests focus on two-part questions that are meant to determine both a student’s knowledge of the material as well as their ability to reason and problem-solve. 

My district, like many others, has become “data-driven” — the latest fad in public education here in Texas. We are turning back the clocks to a time when technocrats ruled corporations with iron-fisted adherence to “the bottom line.” Regardless if the product is quality or not, regardless of whether our work is meaningful or lasting, we WILL produce results that appear quantifiably satisfactory. Our success has become quintile-based, our achievements parsed into sub-pop strategies, and the measure of our worth based on one lone testing date. 

To ensure the district can appear blameless to the powers-that-be, we have administered test after test after test to our students. We test them every three weeks in their core subjects to measure their progress and determine their likelihood of passing the EOC. Teachers must analyze their classes’ data, meet with administrators to discuss the results and provide answers for why their scores are thus or thus. Teachers must work to develop strategies to ensure their students are on the mark, prepared and projected to pass in the Spring. We must discuss students as numbers and develop strategies to get our bottom line to an acceptable level. When we finally near the official test, we administer a full-length mock test. Much like an election poll, it attempts to predict our final numbers. 

Meanwhile, Sophomore students who failed any one of their Freshmen exams (or all of them) are re-taking the exam over and over in hopes to pass at some point in the year. Many are repeatedly met with disappointment. They are placed in remedial classes for a semester meant to help them pass the test(s) they are failing. They are taken out of their electives and sent to tutorial pull-outs with a teacher during her conference. Their parents are informed of their lack of achievement. 

Students as well as teachers are expected to perform above satisfactory level in class each day, on each three-week’s assessment, on each attempt of the exam, during their remedial class, and during their mandatory tutorial pull-outs. If not, students are assigned to mandatory morning tutorials with the same teacher. The pressure mounts for students and teachers as administrators walk through classes and tutorials, trying to figure out just what exactly a teacher is doing wrong. 

This gives you some sort of idea of the state of public education at the moment. 

It also puts into perspective my student’s desire to drop out. Repeatedly, he has been told he is a failure by our public school system. This student, who will make a wonderful employee some day, believes himself to be a failure. He is weary from the constant defeats. He is depressed by a lack of success. Because all that matters now is the bottom line. 


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