High-Stakes Testing Leads to High-Stress Lapses in Judgment

This is a handout given to third graders in El Paso, TX. (Check out the story here.)

The “lesson” was designed by a concerned counselor who wanted to diffuse students’ test anxiety and fears. She gathered their fears through some sort of survey and then put them on paper to talk with them about them. The district reports that it was a help to some kids. 

My greatest concern is this: Why are we making educational decisions that generate these kinds of fears among 8 and 9 year olds in the first place? 

Take a brief refresher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

I always point out to my kids that when the needs at the bottom of the pyramid are endangered, people quickly forget about values, morals, and ethics (self-actualization) to secure basic needs. 

This high-stakes testing culture threatens students and teachers and schools by putting their needs in serious jeopardy. 

A student’s esteem is threatened — confidence, achievement, respect by others, and self-esteem.

A teacher’s safety is threatened — security of employment, health, and resources.

When we are allowed to self-actualize, we can be our most moral, ethical selves. We just need to believe we have all the lower levels first. When those lower, most basic levels are threatened, people are pushed into desperation, which produces lapses in good judgment. 

The state’s answer is to threaten teachers and administrators with jail time for testing infractions. Not only will teachers lose their certificates to teach forever (their livelihood) but face PRISON for test security infractions. 

Does this sound like the kind of environment you would want your children to be educated in? Is this the kind of environment you would want to work in? What long-term effects do you suppose this will have on our children? On the profession?




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