Is Standardized Testing Changing ME for the Worse?

Blogger’s Note: This was a tough post to write.  It feels like a confession that I should probably just keep to myself — but I gotta believe that other teachers of tested subjects are thinking the same thoughts as I am.  While this isn’t super polished, I hope it makes y’all think.  More importantly, I hope y’all will still stand with me even after knowing how testing has changed who I am as both a person and a practitioner. 



Regular Radical Readers know full well how I feel about the impact that standardized testing has had on education.



Having spent the past FOUR DAYS watching my students take multiple choice exam after multiple choice exam — 10 HOURS of learning time that none of us will ever get back — I’m wrestling with the moral consequences of teaching tested subjects again tonight.

You see, early on Monday I decided to start recording the spontaneous thoughts about testing that came to my mind over the course of the week on an index card that I carried in my back pocket.  By the end of the day today, I had 10 different thoughts on my card — and I honestly didn’t much like what I saw.

Here are three thoughts that have me particularly troubled:

“I’m actually feeling pretty good about things!  I know for a fact that I mentioned almost everything that was on my test.”

This was my response to a buddy who asked how I was feeling after my students finished our science test on Wednesday.  You see the trouble spot, don’t you?  Since when did mentioning things become a cause for celebration?

The answer is easy:  Mentioning things is a cause for celebration when your end of grade exam covers a massive curriculum and measures progress by asking low-level, fact-driven questions.  I definitely prioritized coverage over meaningful learning in the past few months even though I’m doubtful that my kids will remember much of what we learned in our short-sighted sprint to measurable glory.

I should be ashamed of that, shouldn’t I?  And as a guy who believes that true learning should inspire kids to change the world around them for the better, I am.  But I am also relieved that nothing on the test would have caught my kids completely off guard.


“If they are going to evaluate me based on test scores, they’d also better find a way to spread out the special programs kids on our grade level.”

Because of a nontraditional calendar, my school is broken into four groups of teachers and students that are called tracks.  The track that I work on tends to have more students with learning disabilities than the other tracks simply because we have more special education teachers in the building while we are in session.

But because of limited budgets and positions, many of those students are mainstreamed into science classes — the subject that I teach — without any special services.   And because of limited budgets and positions, our state didn’t design any modified versions of the end of grade science exams for kids with significant learning disabilities.  Every student took the exact same test.

That left me worrying about my evaluation scores, y’all.  I should be ashamed of that, shouldn’t I?  And I am.  Instead of seeing my students with disabilities as the unique, beautiful, capable people that they are, I saw them as a liability — as kids that were likely to hurt my professional standing.


 “I’m glad he thinks his kids struggled.”

After our common exam was done, I crossed paths with another science teacher in our building who was pretty convinced that his kids had struggled on our common exam.  He was definitely feeling defeated and I could tell that he was professionally down.

As a guy who is passionate about the power of Professional Learning Communities, I should have been there to lift him up, right?  I should have been ready to lend a hand and to help him brainstorm ways that we could both improve our work together.  I should have been a sounding board and a source of support — of him as a practitioner and as a person.

But the first thing that popped into my head after our conversation was, “I’m glad he thinks his kids struggled.  Maybe my scores will be better than his.”

I should be ashamed of that, right?  And I am.  Collaboration with colleagues has helped me to become the teacher that I am today.  My best instructional practices were polished with — and by — intellectually generous peers.  But I’m more than a little convinced that my “me first” thinking is nothing short of an inevitable by-product of working in a state that has decided that competition between teachers for contract protections is a good idea.


Long story short:  I’m starting to realize that standardized testing isn’t just changing EDUCATION for the worse.  It’s changing ME for the worse.  I wrestle with that reality every time troubled thoughts like these roll through my mind — and I’m honestly not sure how to feel about myself as a practitioner anymore.


Related Radical Reads:

Three Flawed #edpolicy Assumptions Every Parent Should Pay Attention To

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year

Walking Moral Tightropes

The Monster You’ve Created

A Short-Sighted Sprint to Measurable Glory

  • Linda Winokur

    Standardized test changing me for the worse

    thank you for your honest candor.  Your authenticity is refreshing.  It humbles me as I too have had these same reflexive, knee-jerl involuntary reactions.  That being said, how do you recondition out thinking?  Rubbing chin and Hhmmming.

  • Layla Sacker


    Bill, your honesty is cathartic. I sometimes feel like I am on a see saw and while I espouse real learning and inqjiry,  move towards practice testing and glee at how much we have “covered”  at Naplan time. I tell our teachers that it is about learning, and yet, feel relief when they do all the practice stuff because  our results will be better. I feel like  a hypocrite. Thank you so much for this  post  

  • Diana Beasley

    Standardized Testing

    Everytime I feel myself longing to be back in the classroom, I will remember your phrase  “short sighted sprint to measurable glory.” No amount of intrinsic satisfaction from seeing happy faces or hearing how much fun some activity was could make up for the dying to self I went through every year that I covered a mile wide curriculum a fourth of an inch deep……ugh! It goes against everything I believe in about true learning. For what it’s worth, Bill, you still inspire students to make significant changes in the world around them by just being you.

  • Mary Lou

    Sadly, I agree with

    Sadly, I agree with everything you say. What can we do to change this? 

  • Lisa M

    I feel your pain!

    I know how you feel. Although I refuse to become a “teach to the test” teacher, I do rush to look at my students’ scores to see how they did. I hate that I do that! I have to remember my mantra, “My students are not test scores!”

  • Elisa Waingort

    Standardized testing
    Wow! What an honest post. Very courageous on your part. I think we’ve all been there, done that to some extent, even sans high stakes testing. It is not a good place to find oneself. The fact that you are reflecting on your reactions could be part of a small research study as to how tests are impacting teachers’ work. Thank you for sharing.

  • Bill Ferriter

    How DO We Change This? WE Don’t.

    These comments are a relief, y’all.  I’m glad to hear that other people feel that tension between who we are and who testing is requiring us to be. 

    But they’re also proof positive that we’ve got a massive problem on our hands, aren’t they?  Schools — and the teachers in them — really are slipping away from what we should be in response to what we’re required to be.

    I’m not sure the solutions will come from teachers and principals, though.  I think the only way this changes is if parents start demanding something better for their kids and something more out of their politicians. 

    That’s why I like the Raising Modern Learners website so much:

    It’s designed to help PARENTS reimagine just what schools could look like if we got away from the test-driven cultures they are today. 

    If we can change THEIR minds, they can change the minds of politicians, right?  We need parent advocacy now more than ever, but parents can’t advocate for something better unless they know what “better” looks like in action.

    Does this make sense?



  • BillIvey

    Makes sense to me

    In fact, unless and until we get back to a point where teachers’ opinions are taken seriously in the mainstream media even if they don’t agree with what passes for our national policy these days, I think it’s our best and only hope. It strikes me – and I can’t remember the specifics – that there are examples out there of teachers and parents working together effectively to resist mindless reform and look at and implement what actually works. It gives me hope.

    Admirable, courageous post. Thank you.

  • Dana

    Thank you

    Just wanted to chime in with everyone to say how much I appreciated your honesty. It’s not easy to own up to thoughts like those.

    I was a kid that always scored in the 99th percentile, but even then, I worried every year that somehow I’d slip below that standard and get yelled at for slacking off. Grades were the be all and end all and I never really learned to love learning for its own sake.

    I send my kids to Sudbury Valley School where there are no grades and no tests, and I have to say I am thankful to have the option. They measure themselves, sure and compete with others, but it’s not over who has the best grades or the highest test scores. And the urge to “do better” comes from within.

    Again, thank you….I hope we can find a way to #occupyeducation!