The trend in using standardised tests as assessment for comparison and assessment as competition is placing huge pressure on teachers, who feel the need to ‘teach to the test’. Many teachers allow the pressure of standardised tests to become the focus of their teaching.
A Guardian article recently stated that many teachers feel that, ‘the job of the teacher has now become a constant struggle to get young people to understand how to pass tests rather than become proficient in their subject’ and that ‘students self-belief is being crushed because the current exam system simply sets up hurdles for them to stumble over.’
Huge stress is being placed on students who feel the pressure to achieve. This stress follows a student from primary, through high school and onto University, where entry into Colleges or Universities is largely based on the results of these standardised tests. The cumulative stress on students is becoming apparent with the rise of mental illness and the development of an ‘anxiety culture’ in education with a ‘rising number of stressed students seeking help.’
Teachers are also feeling the stress with a survey in America showing that ‘of more than 30,000 U.S. teachers, most of them report high levels of stress.’ As part of normal quality teaching practice, teachers do assess students. When competition and comparison is brought into the equation, as is the case with standardised testing, it puts a level of pressure on teachers and students alike, that changes the nature and dynamic of their relationship: a relationship that is fundamental to a child’s growth and their sense of self awareness and self esteem. Teachers often allow themselves to become overwhelmed by the pressure of standardised tests, which can lead to them becoming disempowered in their own classroom.
A classroom where teachers and students are feeling pressured and stressed is not ideal for developing and maintaining appreciative and caring relationships and a sense of purpose which is the foundation for learning.
Most teachers would agree that standardised tests validate and confirm what they already know through their own professional judgment, brought about through their everyday interaction with their students. Teachers’ innate knowing of their students’ capabilities goes beyond their capacity to achieve in these tests, which do not reflect everything there is to know about a child. This was eloquently articulated by a 9 year old girl from Florida, who addressed the school board and presented a valid case for stopping standardised testing from the viewpoint of a child.
"This testing looks at me as a number. One test defines me as either a failure or a success through a numbered rubric. One test at the end of the year that the teacher or myself will not even see the grade until after the school year is already over. I do not feel that all this FSA testing is accurate to tell how successful I am. It doesn't take into account all of my knowledge and abilities, just a small percentage." — Sydney Smoot
Standardised tests are corroding the very precious student/teacher relationship, as both are driven to place more effort in improving student test scores, rather than growing in understanding and appreciation of themselves and each other. They are undermining the teaching profession by dismissing professional judgement, with the result that many teachers are losing touch with their true purpose which deserves to be appreciated and valued. Reducing a child to a number for the sake of policy development and business is placing a huge pressure on teachers and students alike, forgetting the foundational purpose of education, which is to develop aware and responsible adults who are able to contribute and serve in society.
So, how can we as teachers take the sting out of the standardised testing process?
By remembering that our connection to our students is what is most important, first and foremost. After all, isn’t that the reason we entered teaching?