Dear Mr. Gates,
I’m writing to give you an insider’s view of the damage being done by the push to use high stakes testing.
I believe that you have good intentions, but you are being given bad advice.
While I believe that the wide use of high stakes testing is detrimental to ALL students, my direct concern is for the special needs students that I teach.
You see, Mr. Gates, I teach a self-contained class at the elementary level in a high-needs, urban district. Students typically come to me in second or third grade and are already 2-3 years behind academically. In order to be placed in my classroom students have “moved through” a variety of other types of interventions in an attempt to give them the support that they need to learn, but to deliver that support in the least restrictive environment.
Most of my students have speech and language impairments and are developmentally delayed. They work VERY HARD for me, but make minimal progress. It just takes them so long, much longer than their peers, to learn new skills. Even when they have mastered a new skill, it is necessary to review the skill frequently so that they are able to retain the skill.
I’m explaining all of this so that you might better understand why the high stakes testing mania.
You see, my students must take these tests at their assigned grade level. Their grade level is often 2-3 years (or more) above their skill level. Can you even begin to imagine how stressful, not to mention demoralizing, it is to take a test that is that far above your ability? I often liken their experience to what it would be like if I were to attempt to take a test designed for a chemical engineer. While I’m a reasonably bright woman, I would fail miserably act that sort of test. The vocabulary would stump me and I would have no background experience to help me to comprehend anything that I might be able to read. My students will try to do the tests, largely because they trust me and want to please me, but they frequently break down and cry or give up halfway through. For those students who “look” like they’re handling the pressure and make it through the whole test, there is the consequence of behavior problems after the test.
My students, indeed ALL students, deserve to be treated more humanely than this. These tests do NOT give me, or any other teacher or administrator, any information about what my students know or can do.
Please join teachers in designing a program that will accomplish the goal of improving education, without harming our students!
Thank you for your time!