Writing my way through the school year!

Dear President Obama,

Today was the first day of Round 3 of standardized testing in the state of Delaware. The test is administered online, and the students get their scores immediately. It covers everything we learned in the 5th grade, even though we have not finished the school year.

Let me begin with my morning. I attended a union meeting where I am told the state of Delaware has decided that they will decide whether I am a good teacher according to how well my students do on this test! It’s bad enough, that my school is judged by test scores, but now my ability to teach is questioned because of test scores? Does this seem as ridiculous to you as it does to me? Does anyone realize how many other factors control how our children perform in school?

I have prepared my students to the best of my ability for this test. As much as I despise it, I do not want them to fail. Aren’t we supposed to be creating critical thinkers? How can I do that, when instead of doing projects, or collaborating with our pen pals, we are filling in bubbles!!!!

The test. They worked hard, they really did, and all of them showed growth. In fact, most of them passed, except one. Have you ever been in a room full of children taking a standardized test? Have you ever watched student’s knees and hands shake as they go to press the “Submit Test” button, and wait anxiously for their scores? And no, it’s not because of horror stories I have told them, it’s the pressure of it all. The release of air when they have met their goal is audible. Except if they “fail.” He cried. This student that worked so hard, cried. I held back tears and congratulated him for working so hard and for showing growth, and then sent him to the bathroom to collect himself. He cried, no test should make a child cry!

At the end of the day, I told all of them to clap for themselves for working so diligently, he didn’t clap. I pointed at him, my voice cracked, and I said, “You worked so hard, you showed improvement, you get to clap!” Imagine this, we still have two more days of testing.

This is not right, Mr. President, you said so yourself : “One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

I am not against assessments or evaluations, but there has to be a better way. Don’t you agree?

A Heartbroken, Stressed-out, Teacher


Comments on: "Open Letter to Pres. Obama: This is What Standardized Testing “Looks” Like!" (26)

  1. Well said. DId you actually send this to the president. Might be worth hand-writing it and sending it via the US Postal Service. Also – send to Arne Duncan and Justin Hamilton. I will share widely.

  2. Kelly Pearson said:

    As a former elementary school teacher (taught 5th grade), I am now volunteering at my neighborhood school. It is an inner city school with a history of low test scores, no parental involvement, 90% free and reduced lunch and the district has tried to close it twice. After years of trying to get in the door to volunteer, I was finally accepted in three years ago to do some fundraising for the school. We raised enough money to buy new furniture, all new window treatments, playground equipment, bulletin boards throughout the school and more. We created a community board that meets every month and is made up of parents, teachers, community members, business leaders and pastors. We went from 0 volunteers to over 90 this year. We have community partnerships that do after-school activities like art classes, drama classes and homework helpers. We have 45 people who come into the school during the day just to listen to children in grades 1-3 read to them. We have 12 of 19 students in the 6th grade who applied to get into specialty middle schools and were accepted. We have 100% of our teachers who completed the first year of National Board Certification. And after all that, the only thing that the State Dept. of Education will grade the school on is our test scores. Madness!

    • I am very impressed with what you and others have accomplished! That is what education is all about, not test scores! I suggest your teachers try Donors Choose as an option to getting things you need for your school. Keep up the good work!

  3. Wow, this is a powerful post. My heart breaks for your young learner. Celebrating progress towards personal goals is what is important in our classrooms. Our goal should be to bring each child from where he/she is on the continuum of learning to a place farther along that continuum. I am horrified that your children see the results of this test in the moment. At one point in my career I saw some value in state tests – they have definitely changed many MA schools for the better but what you describe, and the anxiety I see in my school, is just not what the intention was nor should be.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.


    • Thank you Julie, and you are welcome. I wrote it as soon as I got home, I was so upset! When they told us the kids would see their scores right away, I thought it was a good thing. I don’t think that any more! The value of these tests is lost, and gone forever!

  4. My wife teaches at an inner city public school for the Deaf. Her students struggle against SO many obstacles: poverty, nutrition, and add to that hearing loss (which can complicate language acquisition). Small class sizes are generally a benefit, except when the school or teacher is judged by standardized tests. Think of this scenario:

    The school is judged as failing if a certain percentage of students do not improve compared to last year’s class. In her small class of 5 students, if, let’s say, 20% fail the standardized test, the class fails. As my wife likes to say, “20% of my class is “Fred” – One student out of 5. If one student does not pass, that could have ramifications on the entire school.”


    • That’s what I mean Jeremy. One test, one test, is used to determine whether or not an entire school is doing well.How does this make sense?

  5. I’m a family therapist, and have also a degree in educational psychology. I also live in Delaware. I see in my office the results of kids that made great efforts and strides, but “failed.” The increase in children’s anxieties (even clinical anxiety) is a big worry to me.

    I also see good teachers that are so anxious they can not function anymore, although they have been wonderful teachers in the past.

    Both break my heart. Education should be fun! Education should open the mind to critical thinking and creativity. Stress interferes with learning. I encourage you to send this to the president, not only by mail, but through the internet also.

    Thanks for sharing your heart!

    • You are welcome Ada, and you are correct. Education should be fun!I still love teaching, but I long for those days before standardized testing! I sent this letter to Arne Duncan and President Obama via email and snail mail. 🙂

  6. As a parent who’s child just finished her tests in a different state, I am appalled that your students see their scores immediately. What is the purpose of that to make children who do poorly feel even worse? My child definitely showed signs of major anxiety leading up to and during the testing process. As much as we tried to reassure, the kids know from the emphasis their schools put on test prep that the stakes are very high. Its pure madness. I implore you to send this letter to your local politicans, the media, Mr. Duncan and our president.

    • I sent the letter to Mr.Duncan and President Obama. I will let you know when they reply.(I mean, “if” they reply.) But you’re right, I need to send it to my local newspaper and politicians as well. Thanks for the idea!

      • Mr. Duncan forwarded my letter to the Education Dept and here is a short version of what they said, “Blah, blah, blah, and thank you for your hard work.”

  7. AddassaMari said:

    I agree, no test should make a child cry.

  8. Hi, I just stumbled across your post here. I’m a 1st year 8th grade science teacher in CA.

    I agree with your views on the standardized testing. This test has become a blight on the education system of the US.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • You are welcome Daniel. How difficult will it be to not only attract, but keep, new teachers, if testing remains our reason for teaching? Thank you for sticking it out!

  9. mariasallee said:

    Thanks for sharing this. My school has now been replaced with a charter due to low test scores. I don’t administer standardized tests at my grade level. Any objections to a pingback in “This is a test”?

  10. […] d. No.  This test makes my stomach hurt. […]

  11. Great letter! Why doesn’t anyone other than teachers understand that standardized testing doesn’t work? I would love to invite you to read my recent post and comment on it. It’s about the same issue. I know you’re a middle school teacher so please don’t be offended by my attitude toward our middle school. It’s an individual case.

    • Thank you! Only a teacher can understand, you have to actually be in the classroom to get it. Unfortunately, these people are so far removed… I read your post, very interesting to see how students in any community are affected. BTW, I teach elementary.:)

  12. What is chilling is how many teachers are writing the same letter to Obama! Over the ten years of NCLB I have watched my joy of teaching steadily drain away. Please know that you’ve got a lot of support and understanding out there, even if it isn’t coming from the corporate privatizers who have the government’s ear.

  13. As a woman who was proudly educated in public schools, as a daughter of two public school teachers, and as a mother of two boys in a public magnet Montessori school, I thank you for your letter. The test prep packets my 3rd grader brings home are maddening and have brought my bright child to tears. I strongly support high-quality public education but have seen and felt my support waver over the past ten years. I want our country’s children to have a love of learning — not to have anxiety over the result of one day’s test.

  14. I wonder about the idea of instantly seeing scores vs the idea of having students wait couple of months before getting scores which in Louisiana usually come a week or two before the end of the school year.

    With our high stakes testing (pass the test or be retained/go to summer remediation), this could destroy family summer vacation plans (which could have enriched student experience) or could cause shame and resentment in having to repeat a grade…isn’t there a statistic that states if a student is retained, he/she has a 90% chance of dropping out of school by 10th grade? Isn’t that what testing and school accountabiity is supposed to prevent?

    • My district used to say you would be retained/or go to summer school. That idea was thrown out the window the first year. Too many kids were supposed to be retained, and they didn’t have enough teachers to teach summer school.

      • the high stakes testing is not a district thing…it is state wide. It stinks on ice! Louisiana embraced this stupid idea 15 years ago…to the overwheming dismay of classroom teachers everywhere…we had gradelevel expectations dumped in our laps (to better teach to the test)…my comment was on any beach, pick up a grain of sand and that’s your grade level expectations…what about the rest of the beach??

        But who listens to us????

  15. Cindy Testino said:

    I agree…..it is not all about State Tests. I have been teaching for 11 years and the kids are so stressed out & have anxiety from all these tests. They feel like that is all they do is prepare for tests & then take them. No time for projects & reports & creativity. It is teach to the test ELA then math then Science etc. They worry they will be left behind (left back) if they don’t get High 3′ s & 4. When I first started it was not like this I had kids writing poems who were published in books. They were able to love school & specials plus explore sports & extra curricular activities

    No that seems to not be an options any more. These kids have so much pressure placed on them from home, certain teachers and some “friends”.

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