With standardized testing finally coming to an end in most districts, schools across the nation are exhaling a collective breath of relief.
After weeks of rigorous test preparation, anxiety-inducing practice, pep rallies and other contrived motivational activities, teachers and students are finally being liberated from the standardized testing rituals that have become an annual rite of passage each spring.
To Southeastern Louisiana University Education Professor James D. Kirylo, standardized testing has facilitated "an incredibly toxic environment in our schools and in our discourse about education, ultimately turning schools from learning centers to testing factories."
That emphasis on standardized testing has corrupted the focus on learning, he added, turning school-aged children into "experimental pawns."
"No doubt, the stakes are perversely high," said Kirylo, who writes prolifically about schools and education. "These singular tests determine, presumably, whether or not students are learning; whether or not teachers are effective; whether or not students will be subjected to boring skill and drill summer sessions; whether or not they will pass on to the next grade level; and ultimately how schools are rated. Likewise, teachers and principals will be faced with either job insecurity or celebrated with public praise."
According to Kirylo, the emphasis on standardized testing has resulted in students being objectified and curricula becoming disturbingly narrowed.
"We're in an environment where conversations among policy-makers, politicians and opportunists are talking about school reform using the language of competition, product, performance and outcome," said Kirylo, last year's recipient of Southeastern's Award for Excellence in Research. "We have created a system that inherently creates winners and losers."
That approach generates an atmosphere geared to winning at any costs, including the strong possibility of cheating. Kirylo said it should be no surprise that something like the recently discovered elaborate standardized testing cheating scheme in Atlanta occurred. That fraudulent activity involved the participation of teachers, administrators and a nationally recognized superintendent.
"Cheating is quite common and widespread," he added. "We all want to win, and many will seek to win by any means necessary. This is true in the history of sports, the corporate world and now in education."
Kirylo, a former Louisiana Elementary School Teacher of the Year, said many in positions of power are so focused on raising test scores, they lose sight of the ultimate goal of whether or not children are learning.
"As a result, there is no authentic concern about addressing the social economic, emotional or psychological disposition children bring to school; no care in finding solutions for over-crowded classrooms, and no care whether these tests are appropriate," he explained. "There is only one goal in mind, and that is to win; winning means high test scores, monetary awards and recognition.
"Schools don't exist to win, they exist to be places of learning," Kirylo added. "The task of the educator is not to compete with other educators, but to cooperate, collaborate and work together to lift all children up. Our children don't attend school to pass a test; they attend school to learn. Unfortunately, our sick educational climate continues to inappropriately test our children out of learning."
Kirylo serves on the editorial boards of The Association for Childhood Education International and the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy.
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