The Pulse

Imagine children thinking they’re ‘dumb’ because they performed poorly on standardized tests. One teacher said it happened at her school.

By: - March 19, 2019 6:00 am
Meredith Pinckney, a Wake County middle school teacher, said excessive testing harms students.

“I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I’m dumb.”

That’s how Wake County teacher Meredith Pinckney said some students reacted after learning they’d performed poorly on end-of-grade tests last year.

“I teach at a school that is low-performing, and last year was my first year there, and we got our test scores and we gave them to our students, it was the worst day of my teaching career,” Pinckney said. “We had students standing in the hallway sobbing because they’d gotten 1s and they felt like they were inadequate.”

Pinckney was one of several dozen teachers who attended a “community conversation” Saturday to discuss the impact excessive testing has on students and teachers.

She spoke candidly with N.C. Policy Watch about how some students reacted last year after receiving their scores on state end-of-grade tests.

“They kept saying I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I’m dumb,” Pinckney said. “I told them you’re not dumb because you did bad on a standardized test, you just did bad on a standardized test.”

In North Carolina, scoring Level 1 on end-of-grade tests shows a student has limited command of the subject area, while a Level 2 shows partial command. Levels 3, 4 and 5 show sufficient, solid and superior command of subjects respectively.

Pinckney teaches middle school agriculture and biotechnology, an elective, so students don’t take end-of-grade tests in the subjects she teaches.

But as a test administrator, she sees first-hand how standardized tests impact students and teachers.

“In the weeks leading up to the testing, you feel the tension in the building just rising and rising and rising, then it’s finally test day and we do that and it’s over and you would think we’d feel better, but then we get test scores,” Pinckney said.

Teachers from across the state attended a community conversation to discuss the impact excessive testing has on teachers and students.

Dane West, a middle schools social studies teacher from Lee County also attended the community conversation on excessive testing.

West said testing “weighs” heavily on students.

“It shows up in how the view school,” West said. “They’ve been told since they were very young that testing was important and that in order to succeed they have to pass the test.”

Both Pinckney and West are realist when it comes to testing. They acknowledge that some testing is needed, but agree steps can be taken to streamline it and to reduce student and teacher anxiety.

“We can remove some of the pressure and some of the consequences that go along with it,” West said. “Make it less stressful, not like it’s determining the rest of your life.”

He said students’ mental health is harmed by the pressure of excessive testing.

“I know the mental health of my students is more important than the numbers that they get on those tests, and right now it’s affecting their mental health,” West said.

Pinckney said there is “value” in testing students, but the state’s needs to rethink how it’s done.

“I would like to see our testing cut down to a minimum,” Pinckney said. “It’s just too much. The tests are too long and they’re written in a way that many of my students are having a hard time even comprehending what the questions are even asking.”

The community conversation was hosted by N.C. Families for School Testing Reform (NCFSTR), Save our Schools NC and Jen Mangrum, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Noted educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch weighed in via Skype.

Ravitch said federal and state leaders have given too much weight to standardized tests. She said such tests are often flawed and shouldn’t be used to measure student and teacher success.

“The appropriate use of testing is diagnostic,” Ravitch said. “Tests today have no diagnostic value whatsoever, so standardized testing is being totally misused to judge everybody for accountability purposes and it’s not supposed to be used that way.”

Jen Mangrum, (Left) a UNC-Greensboro education professor who is running for State Superintendent, chats with State Sen. Floyd McKissick (Right), a Democrat who represents Durham, during Saturday’s community conversation.

In North Carolina, State Superintendent Mark Johnson has announced new initiatives to reduce the amount of testing currently required of students in North Carolina’s public schools.

Johnson has pledged to reduce the number of questions on tests, reduce the time students must sit for tests, change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools, work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests and push to eliminate tests not required by the federal government.

A survey about testing conducted by Johnson’s office found that 78 percent of the roughly 42,000 parents who responded said their child takes too many tests. Seventy-six percent of teachers who responded said North Carolina’s public school students were being tested too much.

And the State Board of Education is weighing the elimination of the state’s fourth grade exams in science and social studies and the fifth-grade exam in social studies as way to reduce the amount of testing in North Carolina Schools.

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Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.