Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards – AIMS, the most dreaded week of the year

When my daughter was in 4th grade, her teacher was trying to ensure that students would do their very best on their annual tests, so he told the students to ask their parents why they take the (AIMS) test (at that time the kids were still taking the Stanford 9 standardized tests).  My daughter told her teacher that her Mom said we take these tests to raise our property values.  Luckily, he had a sense of humor.
He laughed!  Unfortunately, high stakes testing are no laughing matter.  I believed back then, and I still firmly believe now, that testing – like the AIMS testing, is not intended to help students.  It is, in fact, actually hurting them.   

Testing week is the most dreaded week of the entire school year, the only ones who hate testing week more than the students are the teachers.  Teachers are under great pressure to achieve scores, their pay and evaluations now depend on student scores.  They often spend the two or three weeks before the test frantically reviewing all the concepts they have taught during the entire school year.  Administrators are frantic trying to ensure that every child is tested, regardless of whether students are sick or even physically unable to take the test.  All of this stress is felt by the students, and those with test anxiety are almost frozen with fear.  The stress in the air is almost like a visible cloud. 
During testing week, teachers must come in early each day to officially count their test packets and check them out from an administrator's office (who must keep the test under lock and key) and then they must check them back in at the end of the school day.  Teachers are not permitted to assist students in any way, they are not even allowed to look at test questions (yet they are responsible to make sure children pass the test by answering questions that teachers have not ever seen - enjoy the irony).   Some students simply give up & they begin to bubble in random circles, teachers see this, but cannot do anything about it except to realize that their evaluation score and salary are now in jeopardy by a student who simply doesn’t care or is too defeated to continue trying. 

The students spend 3-4 hours each morning testing, and then teachers are expected to continue to teach students in the afternoon.  Students are tired and cranky from testing all morning and are in no way interested in doing more mental work.  Teachers struggle valiantly to control and manage the students until the end of the school day and then, after checking the tests back in to the administrator, the teacher drags him or herself home only to repeat this torture for 4 more days. 

Once the scores are released by the state, they are posted in the newspaper and shared on the TV news and lots of so-called experts jump in to ask "is our children learning?" adding fuel to the legislative firestorm that is already so anti-teacher in this state that it is mind-boggling.  In the past, these legislators were extremely concerned that so many students were unable to pass these ill-conceived and poorly designed tests, so they lowered the passing score, rather than address the systemic problems of the tests. 

Yes – I have always disliked these tests, and after working as a teacher for the past 8 years – I am more convinced than ever that I was right – These tests are not designed to help children. 

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