How do I recall my years in elementary school? I surely remember assignments and standardized tests, but I can also conjure up images of snacks and story time and recreation with my peers in order to forge social relationships (which, in my opinion, is integral for development).
However, the light appears rather dim for today’s schoolchildren. The current academic curriculum is intensive. Lots of work, little play and tests galore.
Monty Neill, the executive director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, spoke to NEA Today about today’s testing culture in a 2014 article.
“A recent survey of the Colorado Education Association found that teachers spend 30 percent of their time on prep and testing,” Neill said. “It’s not uncommon for districts to test their students ten times a year. Some districts have more than 30 tests a year in one grade. Pittsburgh has 35 tests in grade four, with nearly as many in some other grades. Chicago had 14 mandated tests for kindergarteners, and nearly as many in grades one and two.”
Did he say 14 mandated tests for kindergartners?
“Shouldn’t these early grades be a time to discover, play, and explore?” Ginger Rose Fox, an art teacher based in Los Angeles, said in another NEA Today article. “We talk all the time about making our kids ‘college and career ready’ — even at such a young age. Let’s make them ‘life ready’ first. But I guess that doesn’t fit into our testing obsession.”
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) spawned more testing; strict penalties were in place if students did not meet certain standards of proficiency.
“States and districts conducted more tests to use as test preparation and predictors,” Neill noted. “If students didn’t do well on the predictor local tests, schools would intervene with more prep and more practice tests to raise the scores of mandated federal test. Test prep has become a very large part of the school year, especially in low-income communities where many students perform poorly on the tests.”
How does this affect these children psychologically?
“Parents see kids who are bored, frustrated, and stressed,” Neill said. “At the dinner table, they ask their kids what they did that day, and hear, ‘We had another test. It was really boring.’ Parents don’t want their kids educated in this manner.”
Chad Donohue’s 2015 article discusses the emotional toll testing has had on students.
As a middle school English and social studies teacher, Donohue observes the strain, the stress, the exhaustion.
According to Donohue, he detects signs of depression and anxiety. Heightened test anxiety may affect 20 percent of school-aged children and 18 percent may experience milder forms of it.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that feelings of disappointment, anger, helplessness and fear are typical reactions to test anxiety.
“Standardized tests seem to ignore the reality that kids are at various stages in their emotional development and maturity,” Donohue said. “They are sensitive to what happens in school. Middle school students, for example, experience an epidemic of psychological and emotional changes that manifest themselves in a wide range of behaviors and thoughts. Things often don’t feel ‘normal’ to them. More than anything else, kids want to feel accepted; they want to belong.”
Since those early adolescent years are so delicate, increased pressures to perpetually produce high test scores only add stress to their already vulnerable mental states.
Today’s elementary and middle school students are faced with additional requirements, additional distress. There’s a significant emphasis on testing, where creative and social ventures may be placed on the back burner.
Unfortunately, such a testing culture may yield adverse psychological effects, affecting students’ emotional well-being.