When Standardized Tests Change the Classroom Climate

  • Photo credit: Siaath via iStockphoto

    Five years ago, researchers for the National Education Association (NEA) surveyed 1,500 teachers from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 about standardized testing. The results were alarming: Nearly half (45 percent) of teachers said that they had considered quitting their jobs at one point because of standardized testing. The biggest reasons?

    • Pressure — 72 percent of teachers said they felt “moderate” or “extreme” pressure from their administrators to produce high test scores. Not surprising, considering that test scores are often the primary way that a school’s or district’s quality is determined.
    • Classroom effect – 42 percent of teachers said that teaching that prioritizes standardized testing pushes out other curriculum that can encourage creativity and engage students.
    • Time – 52 percent of teachers said that testing and test prep takes too much time; they estimated that testing, test prep and other related activities take up about a third of their work.
    • Common Core educational standards – Since its creation in 2009-2010, Common Core standards have been a controversial topic, notably because of the emphasis on standardized testing and the policy of judging states against one another.

    The weighted importance of assessment scores led to the phrases “teaching to the test” and “drill and kill,” which came to represent teachers who spent large amounts of time teaching and quizzing their students on test-type questions in order to raise their scores, sometimes at the expense of other curriculum.

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    “The (No Child Left Behind) law is uniformly blamed for stripping curriculum opportunities, including art, music, physical education and more, and imposing a brutal testing regime that has forced educators to focus their time and energy on preparing for tests in a narrow range of subjects: namely, English/language arts and math,” wrote the NEA in 2014. “For students in low-income communities, the impact has been devastating.”

    However, there is change afoot: By 2017, many places across the nation were working to reform and reduce standardized testing. Some districts are cutting the amount of time spent on testing, or enlarging the criteria upon which teachers are judged to include such things as challenging curriculum, school culture, and class size. Many districts have eliminated high school exit exams or discontinued plans for such tests. Some states now allow parents to opt their children out of testing altogether.

    But by and large, standardized testing is still the norm, and the majority of teachers must teach the core curriculum and prepare their students for the assessments while still finding ways to be creative in the classroom and responsive to each student.

    “The words ‘standardized testing’ usually come with a lot of groans and eye rolls,” says the website TeachHub. “But test preparation doesn’t have to be stressful and boring.” Some suggestions:

    • Incorporate classroom games: Divide into teams and have a competition with test questions and answers. Create your own rules, or mirror the format of Jeopardy! or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
    • Get students to buy in: Let the students create their own quizzes for each other. Teach them how test questions can be structured on the assessment tests and then let each half your class create tests for the other.
    • Use technology to your advantage: Make a PowerPoint slideshow to ask questions, discuss possible answers, and then show the correct response.
    • Think about small rewards: Buy a roll of raffle tickets, and when students get correct answers, have them write their names on the tickets. At some point in time – after each review session, perhaps – draw out names for small prizes.
    • Don’t forget stress management: Not only for you, but for your students! This can be relaxation breathing, passing out peppermints during a break, even doing a few yoga poses. Not only does it alleviate stress, it gives the students techniques they can use during the standardized tests.

    “Creativity and the State Standards” is one of three continuing education courses offered by DominicanCAOnline (Dominican University of California) that focuses on creativity in the classroom. Course assignments include the following:

    • Reconstructing Standards: Learn how to creatively reconstruct the standards you are responsible for teaching. In addition, you will demonstrate how to create activities that teach different creative thinking skills without reconstructing the standard.
    • Creative Planning: Practice altering and improving curriculum that emphasizes and teaches creative thinking.
    • Evaluation: Learn how to reconstruct and defend teaching standards in order to teach creative thinking skills.

    The course (EDUO 9792) is designed to complement and build on Introduction to Classroom Creativity (EDUO 9791) and Imagination, Innovation, and Creative Problem Solving (EDUO 9793). They are online, self-paced courses that count for one or two semester credit each. For information on DominicanCAOnline, click here. Or to register, click here.