A few weeks ago, The Washington Post published “Your children deserve better than this, first-grade teachers tell parents,” an article that tells the stories of two teachers who are publicly refusing to administer standardized tests they believe harmful to their students. One of The New Century School‘s core values is to never “teach to the test,” and the article fuels commitment to this tenet. Although the article affirms beliefs already held by the TNCS community, what is unique is not the teachers’ condemnation of standardized testing, it’s their brave refusal to administer them in their classrooms, come what may.
In a letter to their students’ parents, which was subsequently published on the website United Opt Out National (“a grassroots organization advocating for the rights of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests and against the privatization of public education”), highly credentialed and greatly esteemed teachers Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones break down the reasons behind their mutiny. At the center of their argument is lost learning time:
In our classrooms the children spend, on average, 1,510 minutes (25 hours) completing assessments. 720 minutes of those assessments are one-on-one. That means that we are tied up assessing students for at least 17, 280 minutes a school year. Your children are losing 288 hours of time with their teacher because of mandated testing. When you break down our days and count for specials, lunch, and recess, we end up with about 4 hours of instruction time. So, 288 instructional hours, or 72 days… yes, 72 days of our school year we, as teachers, are tied up assessing students with the mandated assessments. Why are our schools failing? Why are children not learning how to read? We think the numbers above answer those questions.
And this is just in first grade! The problem, they explain, is that so much standardized testing is considered “high-stakes testing,” which is generally used to determine accountability, with merit or penalties awarded accordingly. High-scoring schools get government funding; low-scoring schools do not, with repercussions for students and staff alike. It’s really no wonder that the specter of teaching to the test arose in such a culture. Teachers and administrators are arguably just trying to keep the school doors open.
But Hendren and Jones are seeing the effects on children of leaching away the creativity and autonomy from the classroom and declining to participate: “This is about what is in the best interest of the child. When education steps away from the child, all purpose is lost.” They do, however, fully understand the value of assessment. Without assessment, the individual student cannot be given the tailored instruction he or she may need. That’s another nuance—a classroom does not comprise one homogenous set of children all learning the same things at the same rate by the same learning vehicle, so why should they be expected to demonstrate what they have learned in a standardized fashion?
“[Children] deserve more time in a rich learning environment, interacting with others, and growing deeper across academic and developmental domains,” said Hendren and Jones, and this is certainly a model for education that TNCS valiantly upholds. That’s not to say that TNCS won’t ever implement some form of testing, but because TNCS is proudly independent, “high stakes” will never coerce TNCS into sacrificing its core values to artificially inflate scores or, worse, to lose sight of the mission to inspire in students a lifelong desire to learn.
Says Head of School Alicia Danyali, “We are not forced to mandate standardized testing, but it would be good to know that we are more or less in line with other independent schools. Students also need to know how to take tests, and probably need the exposure.” She also explained that they’ll need some kind of picture of their early academic journey for secondary education and beyond. If Mrs. Danyali and her administration as well as the school Co-Founders deem it beneficial, a test may be implemented in future. To date, they are exploring what the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) has to offer independent schools and are making sure they find just the right fit for TNCS.
See Standardized Testing: It’s Time To Talk about It for more on TNCS’s views on this important topic.