A Guidance Counselor Speaks Out

My name is Kathie Guild. I am an elementary school counselor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Like many school counselors in North Carolina public schools, I am the designated test coordinator for my building.

In May of 2000 I had a group of elementary students in my room taking the End Of Grade exam. This was their second time taking the test. The week earlier they had scored non-proficient. The students did not seem eager or relieved to get this second chance at re- taking the EOG and being deemed proficient. In fact, they seemed just the opposite. The students were worried, nervous, tearful, and under duress. Several of them actually cried while they bubbled in the circles on their answer sheets. Without exception all of these children were bright. They had turned in assignments, completed homework, worked on projects and reports and had made academic progress during the year. However, the past 170 days did not matter as much as the next 2 hours. These students thought of themselves as failures and the threat of summer school and possible retention were foremost on their minds.

This event marked a turning point for me. I am a strong believer and supporter of the public school system. It is because of this belief that I could no longer sit and watch its demise by the high stakes testing policies adopted by the state of North Carolina. To judge a student proficient by a single score is unconscionable.

In the Fall and Winter of the following year I administered four more state tests. These students had not failed an earlier exam, but nonetheless they worried about passing. I had another pivotal moment as I realized that the testing program not only hurt the students scoring non proficient on the EOGs, it actually hurts all students.

In many schools, eight and nine year old children are taking six state tests a year. That equals twelve hours of test taking alone ! Translated into real classroom time this equals 24 reading lessons, 24 ESL lessons, 24 math lessons. It equals 12 hours of conducting science experiments in science labs, 12 hours of computer time in computer labs, and 12 hours watching cultural arts performances in school auditoriums. The reality of the testing craze is real instructional is being sacrificed to support the testing program. This effects all students.

In order to comply with state testing regulations, school personnel is pulled from every room to help administer and proctor state mandated tests. In many schools, during the testing week there is no music, art, foreign language, resource, technology, gifted, library, counselor, or physical education classes . In May 2001 I was one of the 65 teachers involved in EOG testing. The school virtually shut down all of its programs in order to test students in grades 3-5 Students in grades k-2 were effected as they had no specials and no Teacher Assistants in their rooms. Every teacher and teacher assistant had been pulled. Testing impacts and disrupts the entire school.

The End of Grade tests are not a perfect measure of proficiency but we are treating it as if it were. The EOG was originally designed to measure groups of students and not measure individual progress. The tests are excessively long ( over 2 hours for rdg and math), have a wide margin of error ( that is why students get 3 chances to take it) and can not be used as a teaching tool ( teachers are forbidden to see the tests and the scored data is segregated that way).

We need to invest in exploring quality authentic assessments that accurately reflect a students knowledge of core subjects. Learning is an ongoing process that needs multiple indicators that growth had taken place versus a single standard. Testing has a place in assessment but not first place. Tests scores should be one piece in a much larger puzzle in determining a students proficiency. Test scores have been given far more time, weight, and importance than they deserve.