Excessive Testing Removes Bulletin Boards and Children’s Imaginations

A Chicago Public School teacher, who served as a proctor for the recent Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing, lamented several aspects of the exam. I have been writing about PARCC for some time now, but one of her complains struck me as something I had not considered. Teachers were told to take down their bulletin boards except for alphabet strips and the Pledge of Allegiance. Many of them told her they would not be putting up new bulletin boards, only to have to remove them again in May for the second round of testing.

Bulletin board by Bunches and Bits

Bulletin board by Bunches and Bits

What is the deal here? How could children cheat (I assume that is the motivation for this draconian edict) by looking at a bulletin board? Or perhaps the fear it that a colorful, creative display like this would distract kids from the task at hand, hour after hour of tedious testing.

From Meriwether Lewis Elementary

From Meriwether Lewis Elementary

Think about the dreary and sterile environment of those classrooms from March to June. Teachers forced to remove children’s art and creative writing, colorful displays, and even photos of children in the classroom are wondering why this is necessary. Perhaps the motivation behind the excessive standardized testing movement is making every learning environment the same. Perhaps the goal is to thwart children’s imaginations and to prevent them from daydreaming.

To his credit, Paul Goren, Superintendent of Evanston/Skokie District 65 sent a letter to Chris Koch, Superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in which he referenced the bulletin board issue in explaining why members of his community are upset about PARCC. Goren is upfront about supporting “rigorous standards with an aligned assessment system.” But he also felt compelled to share why so many people at community meetings were upset about PARCC.

In reviewing his list, it becomes clear that PARCC has become symbolic of how many people in my community feel we have lost our way educationally. Goren lists issues brought to him by his constituents:

  • Too many standardized tests
  • Too much time spent on preparing for and administering tests rather than teaching
  • Too long, especially for the most vulnerable children who have a hard time sitting
  • Test anxiety
  • Inappropriate expectations for children with special needs
  • Questions about how this test will be used to inform instruction for individual children
  • Opposition to using tests to judge the effectiveness of individual schools and teachers
  • Questioning why a new test was not phased in and piloted before making every child in grades 3-8 take it
  • Concerns about computer glitches and inappropriate technology expectations for young children
  • Upset over the huge cost of assessment – especially when money for education is limited and shrinking
  • And the bulletin board thing, which is just plain weird

    By Enokson -- What is the harm of seeings kids' favorite characters from books?

    By Enokson — What is the harm of seeings kids’ favorite characters from books?

Goren’s intent with his letter was to “provide the sentiments of the public that I serve,” and I thank him for listening and for doing so. He notes that the district has devoted hundreds of hours to prepare for PARCC and still has many unanswered questions. He even offers several important common sense suggestions, including using a random sampling from grades 3, 5 or 6 and 8 for accountability rather than testing every child in every grade. It would also make sense to allow parents to refuse the test once (opt out) rather than making kids do it every time they are told to take a section of it.

Which leads me back to that bulletin board thing. How sad that something like this is considered a threat to testing.

Bulletin board by Krissy Venosdale

Bulletin board by Krissy Venosdale

Thanks to Superintendent Goren for adding the bulletin board purge to the list of issues about PARCC. And thank you for listening to people in your community and for acknowledging that they have raised some legitimate issues. Too bad ISBE and the Department of Education have chosen not to listen or respond. I guess education is as polarized at the state and federal levels as the rest of our government. Maybe we should send them some bulletin boards.

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