How is Maine going to go about testing all public school students in grades 3 to 8? This question is currently before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

No other educational policy has the potential to affect teaching and learning in Maine as much as this, because we know from experience that what is on the test will get the most attention from teachers and schools.

The Legislature will soon determine which assessment will replace the Smarter Balanced test (also known as the Maine Educational Assessment), which, in my opinion, was rightly discarded.

My fear is this: In a rush to have this critical decision made by May, one poorly designed assessment will be replaced by a different poorly designed assessment. Maine students cannot afford this.

The cost of the failed Smarter Balanced experiment was large in money, time lost, disruption and heartache. Smarter Balanced neither worked for Maine nor fit the needs of our students and schools. Just ask the students who took the test, or the teachers who had to administer it. Will the next one?

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GREATER LATITUDE

With the most recent reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states have greater latitude in choosing tests and deciding what to do with the reams of data produced by the tests.

Unfortunately, the provision for annual testing remains in this new bill. However, Maine does have and should consider the option of delaying implementation of the new assessment for a year, in order to allow time for a thoughtful vetting of any test being considered and receive adequate input from parents, teachers and other stakeholders.

Parents and teachers must make their voices heard throughout this process, or the needs of the students risk being overshadowed by the corporation that can best sell its product (the assessment) most effectively, along with all the bells and whistles – aligned curriculum, software, etc. – that go with the assessment.

There is no evidence that standardized tests increase achievement. In fact, the results of the well-thought-of National Assessment for Educational Progress, which is given in all states every two years to all fourth-graders, tell a different story.

The scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress steadily increased until the adoption of No Child Left Behind in 2002, when progress slowed. Test score gains came to a crashing halt in 2015, as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were forced on the states. This suggests that No Child Left Behind and the annual test-and-punish culture it produced were a dismal failure.

The fundamental problem is this: Continued, yearly testing in grades 3 to 8 now has a record of failure. Failure to increase student achievement as measured by the policymakers’ own metrics. Failure to recognize that public school teachers do not need yearly testing to know what children are learning.

Please be aware that no other developed country tests as much as we do. In addition, we have failed to provide the resources needed by the struggling (and usually poor) schools that the tests have identified.

We have failed to create multiple pathways to success and learning by offering a variety of curricula and options that meet the diverse needs of all our students. We continue to fail to understand the importance of science and what we now know about brain development, and just how challenged children with disabilities are and the nature of their struggle.

Then there is the refusal to take into account the catastrophic effects of poverty and the family stressors that so hinder learning.

LISTEN TO OUR EDUCATORS

Above all, perhaps our biggest failing, is our refusal to listen to the one group that knows best, alongside the parents. Yes, I am referring to the professional educators who have devoted their careers to helping children grow and develop, reach their full potential and become happy, capable and compassionate human beings.

So policymakers: Please take time to do what is right for students. We have been down this road before. But there is a better road, and Maine has the unique opportunity to lead the way.

Parents and teachers: The time for your voices to be heard is now. Testing is not teaching, and teaching is not testing. Let’s not confuse the two.

Make no mistake – how we choose to test our children is significant to how they spend their days in school. Let’s not rush this. Let’s get this right.