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Voices: TCAP madness

Teacher educator and mom Kathleen Luttenegger laments the heavy emphasis on standardized testing in Colorado. She couldn’t opt her daughter out of testing – so she took her out of public school.

Students taking tests

It is March. Once again, TCAP testing is upon us. Each March, I find myself feeling more and more distressed. It makes me sad that really good teachers and principals have to face TCAP (formerly CSAP; to be called PARCC). The joy goes out of learning for some period of time every year for our children.

There are a myriad of reasons why a student might do poorly on high-stakes standardized tests – only one of which is not knowing the right answer.

Have you ever taken a test when you don’t feel well? Look around. March is the time for cold and flu season. My own family is battling a cold virus right now. This weekend we have daylight savings time. Great idea – test students right after changing the clock and they are all out of whack due to changes in sleep. Most parents I know don’t look forward to the first week or two after “springing forward,” especially trying to get up and get going in the morning.

Talk to any public school teacher right now, and they will tell you the pressure is on to do well on these tests. So much so, that they are stressed out. Kids pick up on that stress. Many students have high anxiety around these tests – yet another reason why a student might not perform well on TCAP. And, let’s be honest, many students don’t care a whole lot about TCAP. Why should they care?

As a parent, I looked into opting my daughter out of TCAP. I found out that parents no longer have this choice. State law requires that every child enrolled in public school take TCAP or the alternative at the required grade levels [22-7-409(1.2.a.1.d.l)]. Because I couldn’t opt my daughter out of TCAP, I opted out of public school.

I’m in education because I love learning and teaching. I love the energy and the spirit of schools. I enjoy working with students and families. It is exciting to watch children learn. There is such joy in reading a classic book together. There is great excitement in writing a persuasive essay about saving endangered animals. Watching children prepare for TCAP? Not so much fun. Most schools started TCAP prep sometime in September. At first, it is usually once a week or so. Then, starting in January, it becomes a primary focus of instruction. February brings on the stress and now, it is time to test. No matter how many raffles schools hold to entice students to come to school during the testing period, no matter how many “fun” activities are scheduled around testing – the stress and the pressure are palpable. After TCAP, schools will return to focusing on learning. But, March? I find March to be a joyless time in schools.

Our legislature has created a pressure cooker situation around these high-stakes tests. It is out of control. These tests are being used for purposes they were never intended. This test was not designed to measure teacher effectiveness. It was not designed for use in making placement decisions for individual children. The effect of all of this is clear – stressed out teachers, principals, children and even parents. And, as an educator, that makes me immensely sad.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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