Untimed Testing is Not a Solution


This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 pm. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9.

This is a student who is far above grade level in reading, writing and every measurable area imaginable. She definitely got a 3 or 4 on this test. She is a hard worker and powers through challenges with quiet strength and determination. She is not “coddled.” She is sweet, brilliant and creative and as far as I know she has always loved school. She is also shy and a perfectionist.

After 18 hours of testing over 3 days, she emerged from the classroom in a daze. I asked her if she was ok, and offered her a hug. She actually fell into my arms and burst into tears. I tried to cheer her up but my heart was breaking. She asked if she could draw for a while in my room to calm down and then cried over her drawing for the next 20 minutes.

Make no mistake. These tests hurt children. And removing the time limits has done nothing to change that.

She was not the only one. Many 3rd-5th graders at my school took at hours  to finish their ELA tests over the last three days. When most students take more than 70 minutes- can you really call it a 70 minute test?

Children should be challenged. But challenges should be meaningful, differentiated and developmentally appropriate. No matter how many superficial concessions the state makes, this is not meaningful, not differentiated and certainly not appropriate for young children. This is torture. Opt out.


20 comments on “Untimed Testing is Not a Solution

  1. Would love to post this wonderful piece at ECE Policy Matters. Please let me know ASAP. Thanks!

  2. Astrid Cook says:

    There needs to be more support for parents to opt out. Unfortunately, the majority of schools will not support opting out and if you have a child who (unsurprisingly, considering the teach-to-the-test pedagogy) tests well and maybe is “only” an 85% student, those 4s can mean the difference in getting into a better middle/high school. And most principals will do everything they can to keep your kid from opting out. I tried in 5th (when the tests truly don’t matter) and was told emphatically that my 4-level son would have to go to OTHER testing over the summer to get his elementary “diploma.” I could have fought the principal, but at that point I just wanted to get him to middle school. I will try – again – to opt out for 8th grade, but if the middle school refuses to support opting out, I’m sure he’ll be sitting there hating the ELA and it’s many trick questions (which he realizes are trick questions, but that doesn’t mean he knows the “best” answer… at least the math test is more black and white).

  3. Mary says:

    In this instance, where were the proctors that honestly should have been stopping this on day one? Just because they have unlimited time, doesn’t mean you allow a perfectionist 9-year-old to work on the test the full day on the first day, let alone the next 2 days. Honestly, she didn’t know better but an adult at the school should have stopped this well before she reached the point of collapsing in a puddle of tears. I don’t mean to sound negative about the faculty or staff that proctored this test but as a school social worker, I know that I (or another counselor) would most likely have been asked to talk with the child and ascertain her reason for still working on the test after so much time at our school. This girls perfectionism was serving as a detriment to her and she needed to be rescued from her over driven work ethic.

    • Hi,

      I agree but I think since the untimedness is new many schools were not prepared for how many students would want to continue working on their tests all day- especially since schools have been instructed to allow students who are “working productively” to continue working as long as they want/ can.

      I don’t think it is just a factor of perfectionism- many, many other students at my school took over 3 hours each day to finish. The tests are still too long.

  4. […] “This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 pm. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9.” (Read the full story here) […]

  5. when will teachers- most hate this test–unite and opt out enmasse?

  6. Sonia says:

    Teachers don’t have an option to opt out. Since most people, especially politicians Ed reformers, believe that any one can be a teacher, teachers are unimportant. Except that we are the ones to blame when the policies don’t work.

  7. […] limit is of little comfort to students who are subjected to developmentally inappropriate tests.  Read this heartbreaking account by a New York City teacher who blogs at pedagogyofthereformed.wordpress.com. Of a former student, […]

  8. […] be done. (While I appreciate the removal of the time limit, it seems that some students are taking up to 6 hours per day to finish their tests… which is not exactly “doing better”…) Still, I acknowledge […]

  9. […] be done. (While I appreciate the removal of the time limit, it seems that some students are taking up to 6 hours per day to finish their tests… which is not exactly “doing better”…) Still, I acknowledge […]

  10. I am a retired teacher (part timing). In our neck of the woods, Seattle area, many high schools and students/parents opted out last year. Now the state is threatening those districts with reducing their financial allocation to run schools because the national government says it will reduce money allocations if more students don’t participate. Yesterday our principal said, ” Remember to get as much taught this week because next week is the beginning of the ‘Testing Season’.” We all dread this constant testing. By high school level, many students are subjected to 6 or 7 standardized tests during ‘Testing Season’. I feel for my grandkids who have to be tested and retested.

  11. […] Source: Untimed Testing is Not a Solution […]

  12. Maggie says:

    Testing is not the end all to education. There are too many tests that do not cover subject matter taught in schools. The U.S. is falling behind in learning and “administrators” keep on adding more tests, like that is going to solve the problem. They get the money to keep churning out more tests and the facilitators and the students get nothing. What a rip off. And they wonder why parents are turning away from public schools, opting for home schooling or private schools or charter schools.

  13. Rhonda Stone says:

    Why is this not considered abuse? Clearly, the child struggles with reading and comprehension. What must we do to turn this lost-at-sea ship in the right direction?

  14. […] limit is of little comfort to students who are subjected to developmentally inappropriate tests.  Read this heartbreaking account by a New York City teacher who blogs atpedagogyofthereformed.wordpress.com. Of a former student, […]

  15. I’m not a teacher or a parent, but I’m coming from the POV of someone who remembers the old standardized tests in elementary, middle, and high school. (I’m a child of the 1980s and 1990s.) This testing method sounds to me to be obsessive and disruptive. It’s clearly detrimental to the students’ learning capacities, and it obviously needs to be stopped.

    I realize that teachers are bound by law to not disclose the content of the tests. But I think the thing that needs to be done is to risk everything and go ahead and disclose. Yes, it will certainly mean long, probably expensive legal battles. It will mean the loss of jobs to whoever dares to speak out. But isn’t the chance worth taking, if America’s students are not subjected to these stresses?

    Being a student is stressful enough, as it is; it was when I was a child, and I’m sure that it’s only gotten worse as the years have passed. Children should be encouraged to learn, rather than to have things hammered into them that they are simply unprepared for. I was always a grade-level or two above my classmates, with a great passion for learning, but not everyone is as lucky as I was. And every child learns in a different manner. How are these torturous tests supposed to do them any good, in the long run? How many children are going to be so discouraged that they wind up dropping out of school? How many of the older ones might be so distraught that they eventually decide that life itself is too hard to go on? These are unfortunate and all too real details that need to be considered. Kids drop out, and even commit suicide, if they feel that they are failures–which is exactly what this testing method will make them believe. They need to be protected from that.

    I honestly think that those teachers who are brave enough to take the risk need to expose the content of the test to general scrutiny. Again, I realize the dangers involved, and that I have no right to say anything. But, again, I feel that the future of America’s students is worth that chance. If we’re falling behind so badly, compared to the rest of the industrialized world, then isn’t it worth taking every risk necessary in order to bring our standards back up?

  16. Denis Ian says:

    “In the heart of a child, one moment …. can last forever.”

    About this testing …

    There is no virtue in making children so brave that they might withstand the idiocy of adults. Nor is there any virtue in lying to children so as to protect adult ridiculousness. And when adults trip over their own commandments and reason away the subtle wounding of children … then they themselves have committed a great sin.

    Childhood is an extraordinary moment. It has its own sanctity because it is the maker of first memories … and we make big deals of firsts in our lives. And first memories should never be ugly. Not ever.

    But what has become of us? Why have we arrived at this moment when children become fair game in an adult controversy? Instinct tells us never to place children in the middle of a muddle. But here we are … hearing unbelieving tales of adult unfairness that seem such the antithesis of what is expected from the guardians of our children.

    Life is a long frustration. The great beauty of maturity is that we learn to keep our cool and to react only to the most insistent frustrations. Adults learn to separate the important from the unimportant … and it prevents us from the nasty human inclination to settle on easy scapegoats … and then to punish the weakest and most vulnerable.

    Scapegoats are born of frustrations adults cannot control … and we have loads of frustration surrounding this wretched reform. But frustration is never a green light to exercise a disturbing dominance over the smallest of the small. If that is the first impulse of an adult, then they are in a queer orbit.

    Children cut off from pizza parties and ice cream treats because their parents exercised their right right of refusal? Little humans in little desks made to sit and stare for hours … in of all places … a school? Children confronted by some towering goliath … insisting that they revoke their parents’ own wishes? What the hell is going on here?

    Where is the wisdom in gluing children to desks for hours as they squirm their way through some asinine educational gauntlet that has no real purpose other than to pay homage to some testing god? Who thought that a good idea?

    This is a mess that cannot be unmessed. When will we start over … and get this straight?

    Is this how children should ever be treated? Are there not school campaigns to disarm bullies … and to champion kindness? Have those champions vanished? Were those just paper heroics? Empty nonsense? I sense adult ugliness seeping through a holy firewall behind which childhood is protected. It seems too many are now comfortable liars … even with children. And worse, some have become hypocrites.

    There is never an excuse to scar a child. And if you’re in the child business … that sort of action condemns you to a special sort of hell.

    For children, school is a majestic cathedral. A near shrine where every minute should be crammed with as much wonder as a minute might hold. To disturb that atmosphere is to violate the inviolate,

    A school has no place or space for anyone unable to plug into their memory bank for recollections of their own childhood. If one cannot stay linked with with the memories of their own past, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the memory-making business at all.

    When one’s memory of childhood evaporates, so does one’s empathy. And that is a signal to move on.

    “Childhood is a short season.” Give it its due.

    Denis Ian

  17. […] among them teacher evaluation based on high-stakes assessment, untimed testing, and other “stupid educational trends” that have sacrificed children’s well-being and love of learning on the altar of […]

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