A veteran teacher explains how the testing process affects kindergarten students:
I taught Kindergarten for 23 years. In addition to using imbedded assessment practices during instruction (listening, watching, asking, redirecting, challenging, etc.) I also conducted individual interviews with kids, when needed, to find out what they knew so that I could diagnose problems and plan individual instruction. In recent years my assessment practices became less and less valued by people in charge. Everyone wanted standardized test results that spawned digital graphs about kids. This did not bother me until I found out how much instructional time was lost.
Here’s the reality: You begin the year by testing to obtain baseline scores. One might think this is useful because by testing again at the end of the year you could have a nice graph showing growth. But unfortunately this is not how it is done. Local districts want to see data showing progress along the way so they want tests to be done in between. And most significantly, if a student does not meet the benchmark, you are asked to set up a program to test that child more often, perhaps every month or every two weeks.
When a teacher is testing, there is no instruction going on for that student or any students in the class. Keep in mind that real instruction involves the imbedded assessment practices I mentioned above and must be done by the teacher not a substitute. If someone simply shows kids or tells kids something that is to be learned, this is not teaching. A teacher has to engage with students in a way that will reveal to the teacher what the children are thinking or able to do. Then the instruction moves forward based on this information. Throughout instruction meaning is constantly being negotiated among participants.
Although no child learns anything while taking a test (because the teacher is not permitted to ask questions, challenge or give guidance in any way) the children who need the most instruction end up getting less. They not only lose instructional time when they are being tested, they also lose it when others in the class are being tested. In a typical year, my students lost about 9 weeks of instruction due to testing, perhaps more. Remember, classroom teachers do not test during lunch, recess, specials, special projects, assemblies and other events. We do not test children beyond the school day or year. We test during prime instructional time and therefore it takes days and weeks to complete.
It addition, top performing students who are able to read well beyond grade level take longer to test (passages were longer, responses more in-depth, etc.). So, while spending days and days to obtain scores for exactly how far above grade level these children are, the struggling readers receive no instruction. When struggling readers miss daily instruction their learning degrades rapidly. Also it is important to note that struggling students are absent from primary instruction more than other students for a multitude of reasons.
Teaching really does make a difference and instructional time should be our number one priority. Instead, we are constantly whittling away precious instructional time and then blaming teachers when learning does not happen. So it’s not just about the time spent “teaching to the test” that bothers me, it’s also about the actual time it takes to do the testing that concerns me. It’s a huge problem that should be studied and resolved.