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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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That’s Life: Testing takes toll on parents, students, teachers

Last week, when Spokane Public Schools teachers walked out of their classrooms to stand on street corners for one day, education was suddenly all over the news and social media.

I watched the coverage and commentary with interest, my emotions conflicted. I’d just written a column about standardized testing and why I chose to opt one son out of the Smarter Balanced Consortium Assessment. The day that column was published, I learned the entire junior class at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle opted out.

Like me, they or their parents had hit a tipping point of test-taking frustration.

Yet here in Spokane, most of the parents who contacted me after that column were surprised. They were just as frustrated that countless hours of classroom instruction have been swallowed by test-taking but didn’t realize opting out was an option.

“I didn’t know I could opt my kids out of some of these stupid tests. I’m gonna start asking about it now. I really hate all the time wasted, and if parents started opting their kids out maybe they’d rethink it,” Jamie Wirth wrote.

Stephanie Freeman wrote, “Thanks for the info on this subject. I just always assumed they had to take the tests. I now know better and can make a better choice for my kiddo later.”

I also heard from current and former educators. To my surprise, not one was critical of the column or our family’s choice to opt out. Instead, they applauded any attempt to educate others about the ridiculous number of hours our students spend taking and prepping for standardized tests. They’re frustrated because state-mandated tests have hijacked their classrooms and stolen their teaching time.

“Thank you so much for hitting the nail squarely on the head with your column on SBAC,” wrote Robert Paukert, a high school English teacher who’s taught for 22 years. “You really captured how many of us feel about all these standardized tests.”

Jane Mark wrote about how the tests have impacted a 10-year-old student she voluntarily tutors. The child speaks English well as a second language but struggles in school. She has a low IQ but it isn’t low enough to qualify for services, and her parents lack the education or English proficiency to help.

She’s been falling further and further behind in school, but the No Child Left Behind law, which is supposed to help students like her, isn’t living up to its name, from what Mark described.

“Because of the ‘No Child Left Behind Philosophy’ the school’s strategy is to insist that the girl somehow work harder to raise her scores on the state test. The teacher recommended that the girl “ask more questions in class when she doesn’t understand.” She is so far behind that she can’t begin to ask questions, and it would be the height of embarrassment for her to even try something like that,” wrote Mark.

“This is tantamount to any of them being required to master Einstein’s theory of relativity in a year when it’s being taught to them in Spanish and then having to ask the professor questions in Spanish if they don’t understand. Then, if they didn’t pass the test on this subject, they couldn’t get their graduate degree.”

Yet, somehow this student is supposed to pass state-mandated standardized tests. That takes a toll.

“This year the girl has become very depressed,” Mark wrote. “She is set up by the system to fail and is not placed in a situation where she at least can have some hope of success. … I will fight for her as best I can, but I’m not naive enough to think that I will be able to get a more reasonable situation for this child. School districts must base their curriculum on the state test in order to show the state that they are putting every resource into a higher passage rate. What happens when it doesn’t work? Children who cannot advocate for themselves suffer.”

Not one reader wrote me to support the increase in standardized testing, and last week this issue was a major point made by teachers across the state when they walked out. They’re also lobbying for reduced class size and increased education funding, but that’s another story.

As I watched walkout coverage, it surprised me when some of our elected legislators complained about one lost day of classroom instruction. That’s nothing compared with the weeks of instruction they’ve stolen from our children by requiring so many standardized tests.

Jill Barville writes twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at
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