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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Handling Teacher and Student Testing Burnout

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

I am so fed up with testing. In the state of Texas, out of 180 days of instruction, there are over 35 days of testing of one form or another. That is nearly 20 percent of the instructional year spent on state standardized testing. That does not include the district benchmarks, SAT, PSAT, ACT, AP course testing and even a few more!

In Texas, if a student does not pass each of the five STAAR end-of-course tests each year, the student could be taking 15 discrete tests and retests their senior year in order to graduate.

I am not the only one that has a visceral reaction to burdensome standardized testing. Many of the teachers at my school have mentioned that they are tired of the constant pressure of getting their students ready for the end-of-course testing. Students are tired of it, too. Don't get me wrong, I think the end-of-course idea is going in the right direction -- holding the students accountable for how well they do -- but too much time and effort is invested in a minimum standards test when students and teachers should be placing their efforts on maximum standards.

While the new testing in Texas purports to challenge students at higher levels, there is a lot of instruction that's not at higher levels. Burnout in teachers and students occurs when lessons consist of nothing more than teacher lecture, worksheets, and answering the questions at the back of the chapter; this is teaching to the minimum standards of the test. In my book, Teaching Students to Dig Deeper, I explain that in order for students to really learn, student-active engagement in deep thinking is what drives short-term memory into long-term memory.

Interestingly enough, doing what it takes to get students to think deeply is what makes teaching and learning fun: projects, collaboration, role-plays, experiments, and hands-on -- and in the face of mounting pressure to cover material and prepare for the minimum standards tests, these are the things that are typically skipped.

The Promise of Technology

So how do teachers and students on the verge of testing burnout, "hold it together" and not blow up? One of my teachers, Mr. Elizondo, responded that technology was the answer. He shared his views with me and introduced an idea called TEAL (technology enhanced active learning). He proposed that technology, used appropriately, has the capacity to liven-up the lessons, thereby increasing effectiveness through higher interest and engagement. Adding multimedia to lessons is only a part of the TEAL. The other part is to give the students a compelling reason to find information, solve problems, and create solutions using technology.

Our iPad experiment is going well. Teachers and students at Southside High School are using the iPads to make it easier for students to get to that deep thinking. I see the students more and more retrieving information and exploring learning instead of just playing games or tweeting (both of which were big concerns at the beginning of our experiment). I ask students all the time, "Does the iPad make you smarter?" They typically respond that no it doesn't, but it makes it easier to get to the answers to their questions.

Until the states decide to trust their educational professionals in the classrooms, the teachers will have even more standardized testing, and with less instructional time, we have to maximize the learning. TEAL is one way to do that.

How do you use TEAL in your classroom? Please comment in the section in below.

Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mike E's picture

Ben, I am a high school teacher in Southern California currently getting my Masters in Ed Leadership and Admin credential. In much of our readings and research we are always addressing the high stakes test that currently exist in education. With common core now moving to the forefront, it does not appear high stakes testing will be departing the landscape in the near future.
Your perspective on teacher and student burnout is on point and I can really understand the frustrations teachers and students face. Additionally, technology has to be used to enhance learning. Using technology in my classroom lessons is continuous and the students enjoy the educational enhancements. In our checking for understanding we use a system called CPS, Classroom Performance System, which gives each student a key pad and they respond to the question electronically. Students love using it and it is a high point of the class every time we use it. Technology can help avert some burnout and keep learning new and fresh.

Anne Oswalt's picture
Anne Oswalt
PreAP English I & II teacher from Texas

I share all your frustrations with high-stakes testing. Why can't we just administer the ACT test junior year and call it a done deal and downsize STAAR/EOC to a quiz or diagnostic. If your ACT score is high enough, then proceed to college (if you can afford it), and if not - time to come up with plan B.

Concerning technology - my students and I use it everyday. Our text book is online and contains many bells and whistles. Unfortunately the OS doesn't always mesh with their phones. and some of the interfacing already seems outdated. Additionally, I am discovering more and more innovative ways to flip learning so that my students are engaged and self-directed. They in turn are teaching me much about technology and how it can be intergrated into the classroom. Since adopting the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage" mantra, I am much happier collaboratively coaching the future curators our society is indelibly producing. Hopefully some of these shiny kiddos will help us all figure out how to intergrate Pinterest, Prezie, and Edublog, Twitter and Facebook into some fun, project-based learning we are jazzed about doing after the BIG TEST.

As for the TEAL component: All my classes recently analyzed their most recent reading comprehension benchmark. During ROUND #1 - they found compelling relationships and patterns using testing data available through our district and testing strategies available through me. From THEIR research, most are now armed with concrete specifics to improve their scoring exponentially; and they are acutely aware of their strengths and deficiencies. ROUND #2 is essay disaggregation, which will commence after spring break. Ding, ding, ding!!

Jen Evans's picture
Jen Evans
3rd Grade Teacher form Philadelphia, PA

Standardized testing is definitely taking up lots of time in my classroom. Our students are tested multiple times throughout the year to get ready for the state test (PSSA). We give 4 - Sight tests in reading and math on 5 different occasions: the first day of school, one in November, January, March, and the last one in June.

Both teachers and students are burned out. Along with these tests, we do testing every Friday. By the time March rolls around, everyone is over the testing.

I try to use technology in my lessons. I have an overhead projector that I try to use at least 3 times a week. The problem is I do not always have access to the internet. I would love to plan lots of lessons using the computer (I do for ones that do not require internet); however, with limited access to the internet it is sometimes difficult.

I also have difficulty with the computer itself. My computer seems to have a mind of its one and only works when it wants to. It is very frustrating.

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