The Dark Side of Testing

Dear Mr. John Fallon, CEO of Pearson:

“If you’re going to send me out, you better fucking send him too! What the fuck is this, he threw shit at me!”

This is not a post about testing.

It is about what you don’t see, as a corporation who thinks it would be amusing to test children for eleven hours out of their instructional year (on top of classroom tests, reading tests, English language proficiency tests, and district tests). It is about the other side of testing, the weight that bears down on us (teachers, students, parents, administrators) as we face each day with another disruption.

Not only did the students miss an entire week of instruction in March, but they also must have their schedules disrupted for a solid two weeks in May, in addition to the already-in-place finals schedule?

As Mark Twain said, “Teaching is like trying to hold thirty-five corks under water at once.” Try holding them under water after two months of testing, two weeks of a different schedule, and one hour and forty-five minute classes. I don’t know about you, but the last time I wanted to spend a solid 105 minutes on a task, it was a date with my damn pillow. Try entertaining/testing/questioning/reading with/TEACHING a bunch of fourteen-year-olds for that amount of time. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Hence the outburst at the beginning of this post, at the end of day three of this schedule, when we’d all about had enough. It didn’t matter that I picked a book just for kids like him, about a refugee from South Sudan. It didn’t matter that we were about to watch a documentary about the real struggle of Lost Boys. It didn’t matter that I care about everything that we read, speak, and think in my creaky-floored, ever-hot urban classroom. All that mattered was that he–and I–and all of us had reached our limit.

With my other classes, we went to the library to check out books. Upon arrival, we witnessed the mass of students who opted out of the PARCC and were sitting listening to music, streaming videos, and losing another three and a half hours of instruction this week because their parents had the gall to stand up to this nonsense, but not the ability to come and retrieve them from the school.

This is what you don’t see, Mr. CEO with expertise in the “financial sector.” This is not about money. This is not about students’ abilities to meet a standard set forth by a corporation. This is not about a test.

It is about human lives, human quality of life, that with your impossible expectations and complete lack of experience in AN ACTUAL SCHOOL, you couldn’t possibly understand. Make the test digital! Have you ever thought for one moment that my school district, along with thousands of others, doesn’t have a computer for every student like your $8.6-billion-dollar-profit-in-one-year company can provide for its employees? And because of that, testing has to be spread out over days, weeks? Have you ever thought that the questions you ask students, that have been formulated by a team of specialists wanting to sell curricula to failing schools across the country, can’t even be answered by well-educated adults? Have you ever been a School Assessment Leader, a now-full-time position in every school in the nation, trying to balance the lives and supervision of pre-ACT, ACT, PARCC, ACCESS, Interims, SRI, and AP tests in the 180-day school year? (On that note, have you thought about when we would actually have time to do our jobs–TEACH?)

This is not a post about testing.

It is about the dark side of testing. The students who shout out that, “If this test doesn’t count for our grade, and doesn’t determine the classes we can take next year, and doesn’t count towards graduation, then why do we have to take it?” It is about the dark shadow that falls upon schools that are filled with impoverished children, abused children, children whose first language isn’t English, refugees, immigrants, affluent children, apathetic children and children who care more than anything about their education, and the teachers who commit most of their lives to their love for these children, and your. TEST. IS. MAKING. THEM. HATE. US.

Have you thought for a minute, a singular minute, to set foot inside a school? To see for yourself what the students see? To sit for one hour and forty-five minutes in ninth grade English, have a measly five-minute break, then go through the bug-ridden process of trying to log on and then take a math test in geometry that includes trigonometry questions that they won’t study until eleventh grade? Have you visited the students in the library who have lost half a week with the teacher who they wrote cards of gratitude for during teacher appreciation week?

Have you thought for ONE MINUTE about the human effects of your test?

This is not a post about testing. It is a post about you. About your company. About our society. About the people who chose this career not for a profit but for the love of children. They are not profit centers. They are not machines who can be reprogrammed to obediently accept all we dish out.

They are our future.

Please, Mr. Fallon. Let us be sure that we will still have a future to look forward to. Visit a school. Talk to a child. Be something other than a test.

Because this is not a post about testing.

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