High Stakes Testing. School Dilemma.


When I first read this statement several years ago, I was blown away by Matt Damon’s personal assessment of the current education system in many (if not most) parts of the United States and particularly in my state. Job security for teachers should not be solely based on the performance of students on a standardized test. I believe that this is the most critical dilemma in education today.

Unfortunately, I have seen teachers criticized for the performance of their students on one test that is administered on one day. There are days designated for retakes. There may be summer school offered because of the low scores for a retake test. Unfortunately, the students lose confidence. The student may not advance to the next grade level. The teacher may not advance to the next school year at their school or be admonished to the point that they quit the teaching profession. I can name at least three teachers from just a few years ago who were employed at the school where I last taught. These teachers left the profession.

These were teachers who gave their best efforts to the school. These were not new teachers. These were teachers with experience and positive records. Their students were learning so much more than what was shown on the test scores. These were mostly students from impoverished homes…homes where the electricity might be cut off at any time. Homes where a parent or a cousin or a family friend or a grandparent perhaps spent regular time at the county jail. I can guarantee that these students had much more on their minds than a state test. They just wanted to survive. Most knew that they need a good education to get out of their situation.

What they currently need is a strong dose of guidance to move forward…to finish high school…in some cases to just make it out of middle school. And yet…these children who usually fluently speak two languages…these children who are polite and kind, but are fearful of the crime in their neighborhood…these children are normally given the very same test as the children from the schools in the most affluent areas.

The basic needs that are being met are very different from the basic needs that are being met in the affluent areas. We are talking about children who barely have their basic needs met compared to children who abundantly have their needs met. The children in the “better”, the far more “affluent” neighborhoods do not worry about their next meal. They do not worry that they have not taken a bath for four days because the water has been turned off. They do not worry that they did not get any sleep because they have to sleep on the floor.

How can they possibly be compared for test performance? It is a challenge, a thought provoker, a sometimes difficult road to get the children from lower income homes to highly achieve. It takes time and patience and continuity. To teach these children is the most fulfilling time that I have spent in any position that I held in my career. The teachers who were admonished for lower scores felt the same way as I did about the students. They were honored for the opportunity to help these children learn. Any amount of advancement should be commended and it is usually not commended.

The children from the “struggling” side of town need art and music and magazines and books. They may not have any of these opportunities at home. If the teacher spends the time needed to pass a high stakes state test, how much time do you think is spent on the joyful parts of learning? I say…precious little time.

This is why Matt Damon’s statement resonates so strongly with me. I’ve made the following statement before and I will keep believing my words:

I see the joy in my classroom when we sing songs, tell funny stories, dance like no one is looking, learn phonics in a totally different way, read book after book after book, share real moments from our lives, talk about fairness and goodness and responsibility, laugh loudly. We need to accept the fact that these children need security and love and direction more than they need higher scores. We need to take the time to encourage a sense of childhood happiness. This might be their first chance to see and feel true joy. Only then can we begin to move forward.




11 thoughts on “High Stakes Testing. School Dilemma.

  1. I think if someone is motivated, it doesn’t matter if their water is shut off or whatever the circumstances. In this country, we live way better than many other countries. We may have hunger, but not starvation, which is very real in other countries. We feed people in schools. How great is that? In my experience of public school when I was growing up, I would say a good portion of the teachers weren’t doing their jobs. We all knew teachers like that. We had a real problem because children would spend six hours a day in school for years and couldn’t do math, or read, or comprehend, much less analyze. Test scores are meant for accountability, not the be all and end all of education. Your last paragraph- that’s the parent’s job. I don’t expect a teacher to “share real moments from our lives, talk about fairness and goodness and responsibility, laugh loudly.” Honestly, that’s my job and if parents aren’t doing that, then maybe that’s an issue. What I do expect, since I’m forced to pay into this system, is to have a well-rounded education for my child that is competitive with the rest of the world’s. Sadly, that is not the case, and we need to stop blaming it for lack of running water.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your comment, but I do not agree with everything that you say. A portion of the population does not have adequate food in our country and completely depend on the school to feed the children breakfast and lunch. A high percentage of the children at the schools where I taught did not have an evening meal. The breakfast and lunch are free for every student at the schools. This is paid for by a federal program because they are Title I schools. The surrounding neighborhoods are poverty stricken with an unusually high crime rate. A high number of the parents and/or grandparents are not legal citizens & do not intend to get the proper papers. They continuously go back & forth to Mexico. I taught at mostly bilingual schools for the English and Spanish speaking students. I also taught at a school with a high number of students from Vietnam and different countries in Africa. At my most recent schools, the families receive food stamps, a free education for the chidlren, free breakfast/lunch for the students, free uniforms when they need them, free social services, and so on. We are “forced” to pay into the system, but a surprisingly high percentage of these parents do not pay into the system at all. If they happen to have a job, they are paid in cash in order to totally skirt the government system. I certainly do not want these children to suffer, but I know that many times they do suffer. You refer to the last paragraph and I understand your feelings. In a normal situation, the parents would take on the personal responsibility for this particular learning. We gave our own children every opportunity and we did teach them about fairness, goodness, responsibility and so on. Trust me…many parents do not know how to take on these duties. They may have little education themselves, they may have drug addictions, they may be arrested time after time. One recent year, I had seven fathers of children in my class who were in jail. Actually, most were in prison for very serious crimes with long term sentences. I do know that a lack of parenting skills is a serious problem and my school does address that situation. It is a long haul objective with hopefully a positive end. However, it is difficult to get a strong handle on the problem when the student population fluctuates so much. My own personal experience in public school was very positive. My husband’s experience was very positive. Our children’s experience was very positive. On the average, the teachers were stellar. Of course, there are going to be poor examples of teachers and they should be dealt with appropriately. As far as test scores, I understand all about the process of accountability. It is a true statement in my state that high stakes tests are quickly becoming the be all and end all. I was certainly not blaming the entire education system as well as the lack of a well-rounded system on the non-existence of running water. You perhaps misunderstood my point. The child’s ability to focus, to retain information, to ask questions and so on can be blamed for lack of running water, for no electricity, for sleep deprivation. I was speaking of the schools where I have taught as well as schools where my colleagues have taught. Have you had the experience to teach in a poverty stricken and high crime area? Do you realistically understand the problems that arise? I chose this type of school for 18 years because I needed to clearly see the other side. Before my experiences at my five similar schools in two districts, I believe that I wore rose colored glasses. This is a serious problem and we all need to take responsibility for finding solutions. I honestly had no clue about reality. I wrote the post with very true situations in mind…situations that children should not have to face. In addition, motivation can be demolished quickly in a young child who is repeatedly treated incorrectly in the home environment. Lucky are the few who truly use their natural motivation. If the parents are unable to provide the needed structure, it is up to the teacher and the school. We do need the best and the brightest take on the job of teaching. Again, thank you for your comment. I do appreciate hearing from you.


      • Actually I do know. I went to school in the inner city of Philadelphia in the 80s. It was awful. I wish there was accountability then. I’m not saying the common core is the answer but the teacher’s union should have participated in discussions about what is appropriate for each grade level instead of making excuses for why we shouldn’t have any measurable standards and then criticizing what came out. “If the parents are unable to provide the needed structure, it is up to the teacher and the school.” I beg to differ. You are biting off more than you can chew. By catering to the students with the highest needs, other kids fall through the cracks, i.e. they’re bored, like I was. I would rather teachers stick to the lesson plan so that all can benefit and leave the parenting challenges to social workers, parent coaches, psychologists, or whoever can really devote their time to this. “This is a serious problem and we all need to take responsibility for finding solutions.” I know a mother who works full time and her three kids do their homework and make it to school on time. As a social worker, I never understood how some people could have more free time than parents working full-time and their kids aren’t doing as well. I thought I could help them, but really, they need to want to help themselves. Maybe that’s what needs to be relayed to the children- they have to want to help themselves. Maybe that involves after school tutoring, mentoring, group study halls so that everyone completes their homework, but certainly not taking on the role of the parent.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I understand what you are saying. I make every effort to NOT cater to those with the highest needs. Actually, all have high needs. I do differentiate my teaching…the same information, but delivered in a way that the child can personally process. In addition, I think that we should teach with a top down expectation. It works for me. The children who catch on quickly to whatever we are learning…different children in most areas…can scaffold the children who do not “get it”. I have had real success with peer mentoring. All my schools have tutoring before and/or after school, study groups, former teachers who now work at the administration building who help, and retired teachers to assist. Since it is in a large urban district, we do have psychologists to call upon. However, they appear to have limited time, so I am not impressed with the running of that department. The counselor is very good at all the schools where I have taught, but the schools are large and two counselors are needed. Some districts have interns in social work to assist. I think that idea works well! Honestly, the teacher does take on a lot of extra responsibility. Thanks a bunch for commenting!


  2. This is a great post. Years ago my dad did not receive a signed high school diploma. He was the oldest son of 5 kids of a widowed mother. He would routinely have to go home early in the school day to do the farm chores so the family would thrive. In his yearbook, as a senior, the quote next to his picture simply says, “Experience teaches” My dad was a successful businessmen for years and is an inspiration to all who know him. Experience was his best teacher. He always thought it was funny that he was eventually a board member for the high school he had attended. He sat in the boardroom with college professors and his input was valued as much as theirs. There is so much more to life than book learning for kids to be taught in and out of school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. What a wonderful story about your dad! It sounds like his experience working on the farm gave him such drive and direction. School is so much more than the basal reader or the math lesson. My children always responded so much better when I told them stories about my life growing up, about our farm, about our children, about a place that they might visit someday. They would remember my stories all the way through elementary school. I would love it when a 5th grader would say something like…” Mrs. Davis! Remember when you told us about the bull that ate treats from your hand?”. That is what learning is all about. By the way, your dad sounds like such a true gentleman!

      Liked by 1 person

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