I am reading a great deal of commentary about the negative impacts of high stakes testing on teachers, on principals and on the education system in general. What I don’t read as much about is the effect on children.
When I was a school principal in the USA I worked very hard to develop a school environment that was welcoming, positive and made children feel safe. Many of the kids in this Title 1 School lived precarious lives outside the school building. I wanted school to be a place where they wanted to be.
This was testing week and we were about half way in. I had put in all the procedures my district required in order to maintain a common, secure standard of testing throughout all the schools. One group of fifth graders was in a portable classroom outside. During the Social Studies test a child needed to go to the bathroom. The assistant accompanied the child, and when they arrived back the child banged loudly on the locked classroom door, startling some of the children still working inside.
At the end of the test the teacher was required to complete an ‘exceptions’ report, indicating anything untoward that might have happened during the test. She mentioned this incident and reminded the children of the procedure should another child need to leave the room during testing. She then told the class (rather foolishly) that there was always a possibility they may have to repeat the test.
The Guidance Counselor and I were called urgently to the classroom a short time later. When I entered the room I was horrified by what I found. The teacher was seated on the floor physically restraining an hysterical child, another was repeatedly banging her head against the wall, a third was pulling hair from her head and many were crying . All this because they may have to take a test again.
The hidden levels of stress and fear that this testing regime had engendered in our children was made painfully obvious to me. I knew this had nothing to do with how my school was administering the tests. In comparison with other schools in the district we remained relatively relaxed about the testing period. I didn’t post monitors at desks in every hallway, I didn’t put signs outside the school asking motorists not to use their horns because “Testing is in progress”.
All educators understand that the entire enterprise is here for the benefit of our children. As we find ourselves caught up in these arguments about accountability and evaluation let us not neglect consideration of impacts this is having on them.