Killing the Spark

June 26, 2017

This interminable school testing. I don’t know that NC is any different than other states but frankly, I haven’t taken the time to investigate everywhere else since my kids are here and that’s my focus.

I spent 4 days in May proctoring the NC End of Grade tests. If you’re not familiar with what that means, it means that I was an independent, third party babysitter in the classroom, there to confirm that the faculty was not influencing the students and their testing outcomes. Every classroom where testing occurs must have a faculty member and a proctor in attendance. Understand, that’s not just the assigned classrooms. That’s also all of the other spaces where students are being tested under different conditions and with accommodations as prescribed by their individual needs.

Let’s talk testing conditions first. The state is asking students to sit still for 180-240 minutes to test. No food, no snacks, no water, no talking, no reading, no moving about. Well, there
a 3-minute break per hour. Restroom breaks are only as absolutely necessary (for students and teachers alike).

What the heck? There is no adult that I know who can sit still for that amount of time in silence, taking a test. Much less, children who are not wired for the endurance of sitting still for that time period. The pressure in the space is palpable. When the kids hear every click and pop in the room-it’s unnerving. Nowhere in life is silence mandated like it is in testing. It’s very much of a police state feeling to be the adult who is pacing the rows, ensuring compliance.

Let’s talk about the
, not even a smidgen of it. Could there be a bad apple out there? Of course, there could be but that’s in every profession and industry. Why have the schools been singled out as the location of this nefarious activity? Look-you, DPI, are telling our students that their beloved teachers can’t be trusted, when you force this process into place. Are you purposefully undermining their trust in their closest adult allies? Are you trying to showcase that its Big Government who knows best and must be obeyed at all times? (By the way, there is a far more elegant solution than hunting down volunteers in these numbers. If you really don’t trust our educators, have them switch classrooms and then administer to a different set of students. I still think it’s unnecessary, but if you insist on being untrusting…)

Let’s talk about testing. I ranted about this last year in a
. I’m still mad, and no, I don’t have any more power or solutions that I had last year. I just have my rational research and my humanity as my grounding for why this is so, so wrong.

Our teachers are stressed. The administrators are stressed. The students are stressed. And for what? These tests, which are held as being so very important in the eyes of the DPI and legislature, are telling teachers what and how to teach. Facts are being regurgitated. Our best educators, who creatively find ways to reach each and every student, are being hog-tied by having to make sure their students can perform on a state test. Tell me again how this is supposed to be beneficial to anyone, with the notable exception of the giant testing companies who are making a fortune off of our schools and our students.

That’s another trail altogether. Want to know more? Look into Pearson and the testing conglomerate that they have created. Ask for the line item budget and find out exactly how much money they are making on testing. Then, ask a question that apparently is beyond the scope of many elected officials.

Where is the data going?

Big data is big money. Every click is measured. Every website page is monitored for time spent on it. All of these analytics, assigned to a human being. Assigned to my child. Who has that data on MY CHILD? And more importantly, what are they doing with it? I’ve asked this question on the local and state level and have yet to find a satisfactory answer or even someone who’s willing to ask it of the right people.

I have been asked why I don’t opt my children out of testing. I could. You can, too. It’s legal, although the system does not talk about your options as parents. I chose not to because I don’t want the teachers and schools punished. A non-tested kid shows up as a 1 score (on a scale of 1-5). Low scoring teachers and schools are punished. Which is wrong.

Why is it wrong? Simple. Not all kids are created equally. Children are not homogenous, no matter what the mainstream media wants you to think. Not all children are brilliant. Some are just not going to understand or retain the materials. Some others are plenty capable of understanding and retention but are not good at test-taking. Are they less valuable as humans? Absolutely not! But your system of required tests tells each of them that if they are not good at this stupid standardized test then they are not good. Half the battle of the faculty with the not-good-at-test-taking kids is helping them stay strong- to believe that they are better than a test score. Shame on all of us, for allowing this system into place, which is beating our children down. (By the way, the kids that are doing great on the tests? They’ll still do great without a standardized test to ‘prove’ it.)

Why in the world do we need to measure children against one another, like they are some kind of commodity item?

Also, why does the ‘testing code of ethics’ state that we are preparing our children for the job market? That was NEVER supposed to be the end goal of education. We have allowed the layers of educational middle management to take the joys of learning and the Classical process of teaching HOW to think away from our children and teachers, in favor of teaching WHAT to think. There is no way on earth that a middle schooler, much less a third grader, ready to be prepared for the job market.

If our students know HOW to think and reason, they will be fine. Teaching them little more than test strategies prepare them to be less than they could be. I believe that each student has inherent value. Each teacher has a purpose and gift for where they have chosen to be.

Our job is to allow them to reach this potential.

DPI, do you hear me?


Leigh Brown
Owner, RE/MAX Executive Realty
Product of Cabarrus County Schools and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Parent in Cabarrus County Schools