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COMMUNITY VOICE

The stress over ISTEP testing is more about anxiety than education

Friday, January 24, 2014 - 12:01 am

ISTEP testing is just a part of the school curriculum in Indiana. It has many purposes, none of which include real learning. Memorizing facts in order to pass a test is such a waste of time because so many of the facts learned will soon be forgotten after the testing is completed. Despite this, ISTEP tests continue to be given year after year starting with third grade.

I recently read an article where the state is considering including first and second grade in the evaluation process. As one 12-year-old stated, “First- and second-graders are still losing their baby teeth!” Testing these young children would be a great way to take away the joy of learning for them.

Has anyone ever considered the pressure that some children experience from these tests? I know of one school system where announcements are made four weeks ahead of the testing date to let students know how long they have to prepare. If a child fears the test, imagine how anxious he or she would be when hearing every morning that there are 29-19-18 days until testing begins?

I personally know a sixth-grader who is so anxious about taking ISTEP tests that she is chewing on her glasses and chewed off part of her hair! Why would anyone put a child through this just to prove to the state that the schools are doing their job? A pediatrician suggested putting her on anti-anxiety medication. What are we doing to our children?

I have been tutoring this young lady for a year and a half, two to three days a week to help her with English and language arts — the subjects she does not pass. She reads constantly, has a photographic memory to retain weekly spelling words, math tables, names of presidents, states and capitals — everything children memorize in school, but yet she cannot pass the language arts/English part of the test. Something is wrong with this picture.

One of her biggest fears is the time restraints. She hears the clock ticking in her head while trying to concentrate on the tasks given her. This is a great distraction from what she is trying to achieve.

Failure to pass any part of the test is equivalent to spending the next entire year in an after-school tutoring program, paid by taxpayers, to get students up to grade level for the next round of tests. This may sound like a good idea, but unfortunately most of the two-hour program is spent on craft projects and very little time is allotted for homework help as advertised.

I realize not all children are so anxious about taking tests — most are not. When I taught fourth and fifth grades I didn’t spend most of every school day teaching for the tests but spent the school year teaching for the love of learning and stressing the creative part of education. Teachers had control of their curriculum, not the school corporation or the state or national government.

Many school corporations are already stressing about this year’s tests because of missing most or all of a week due to the bad-weather cancellations. What will happen to the test scores this year because of all the time missed? In my opinion probably missing 30 or more hours of instruction won’t really make much of a difference.

I taught fourth grade during the 1978 blizzard and the 1982 floods when schools missed more than a week of classroom learning. My scores were higher than ever because all of the pressure wasn’t on the students.

The pressure in the classrooms will be even greater this school year, and next school year the process begins all over again for another anxiety-filled school year. Unfortunately it never ends. This column is not going to change anything about ISTEP, but I hope people will be more aware of what current education is doing to our children.

I urge parents, educators and students who agree with this column to contact their local, state and national representatives to make them aware of what is happening in our schools in the name of education. Every voice is important in making changes.

Ann Rickert is a retiredFort Wayne Community Schools elementary teacher and Decatur resident.