In “Testing Miss Malarkey” by Judy Finchler, it’s called “THE TEST DAY.” It’s a day that creates anxiety for students and teachers alike. Mothers prepare their children for “THE TEST” during bedtime and ask if “this test will hinder [their child’s] Ivy League chances.” Teachers line up for the school nurse before “THE TEST” starts.
The North Carolina Board of Education is currently in the midst of a debate surrounding high-stake tests similar to the ones mentioned in Finchler’s book.
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that the state submit a proposal for new public education regulations to federal education officials. Currently, the North Carolina proposal continues to utilize high-stake tests but many disagree with the continuation of this practice.
“I think in states that are choosing to assess in new and better ways, hopefully [testing] less frequently and hopefully using the results in different ways than they’re using them now, it’s an improvement,” said Dr. Jennifer Mangrum, a Clinical Associate Professor in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s School of Education. “But if we’re not going to change what we’re doing now, it’s really a disservice to schools and to students.”
The ESSA, which replaced No Child Left Behind, was approved in December 2015 and requires that state proposals were submitted by Saturday. Tension surrounding the plans in North Carolina has led to the writing of sixth different drafts.
“A lot of people spent a lot of time working on this last month,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson on NC Policy Watch. “This was really great proof that things can be done in a constructive manner and really address concerns.”
Johnson has criticized North Carolina’s testing in the past but indicated that there is support behind the most recent version of the proposal. For teachers such as Mangrum, however, there is still a long way to go.
“Children grow both cognitively, emotionally, physically, and developmentally at different rates…so developmentally that means at a certain age they should be able to take on so much. An eight-year-old should not have to take a three-hour test. It’s not appropriate,” Mangrum said. “What we’re expecting kids to do is not natural, or what they’re built to do, and that’s what developmentally appropriate means. We’re asking them to do things that they’re not ready for.”
Mangrum also spoke of the effects that the high-stakes test have on teachers in the school system. According to Mangrum, many teachers are “beaten up really badly,” especially when working in low-poverty schools. These schools in particular often faced the consequences put in place by No Child Left Behind and are labeled as ‘D’ or ‘F’ schools by the state’s education grading policy.
“…the students [in D or F schools] struggle to do well on that test. Once you label someone a D or an F, you’re setting up low expectations,” said Mangrum. “I’ve been in those schools and many of those teachers are working harder than teachers at affluent schools.”
The public school system in North Carolina has been a hot topic recently as tempers flare around testing and funding. The N.C. State Board of Education voted in July to cut $2.5 billion from their budget because of pressure from the General Assembly. $7.2 billion more in cuts are set to come in the next year.
Mangrum believes that the best thing to do for the public education system is to create more connections between the School of Education, the government and itself. She also believes that there needs to be an increase in teaching tactics that promote collaboration and life skills such as reading, writing and creating.
“We say failure is great because you’re learning something when you fail. Kids become more persistent; kids change their idea of what it means to be smart,” said Mangrum. “If you think about it, the test failure isn’t something you learn from, it’s a label you wear.”