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Opinion | If teachers think standardized tests stink, maybe we should listen

In a recent guest commentary, the Grand Rapids and Michigan Chamber of Commerce are singing the same song educators across Michigan have decried for years – the business community's long-held and disproven belief that standardized testing is the end-all, be-all measurement of academic performance in our state's children.

Matt Koleszar
Matt Koleszar is House Democratic Whip and State Representative of the 20th District, which includes Northville and Plymouth. He is a former teacher in Airport Community Schools in Monroe County. (Courtesy photo)

Take it from a former teacher: focusing on the state summative assessment in the middle of a pandemic, where students stress levels are already at an all-time high, where no two districts are operating the same, where poverty has been exacerbated by job loss, and where thousands of people have died from COVID-19 will not provide any accurate measurement of performance and educational attainment. 

And we already know this because it does not provide an accurate snapshot in non-pandemic times either. All it will demonstrate is what we already know: that students in high-income districts continue to perform better than students in low-income districts.

Instruction time for our state’s students has changed, and for many, even been shortened. Every minute our students are in school should be focused on maximizing their overall education, and not be spent on teaching to a test or on punitive measurements of teachers’ assumed performance.

What our schools need is support. The legislature should act now to waive standardized tests and instead allocate all CARES Act funding into our districts, ensure all school personnel are vaccinated (and not just teachers), we need to reduce class sizes, not just for health but for the quality of instruction, and provide our schools with the emotional and educational tools our students so desperately need.   

Our students are people, not products.

Within a business, setting stringent uniform standards and expecting unfettered participation is a warranted and reliable measurement. In our children it is not. These tests create undue stress and pressure as early as elementary school. Tests can ignore the strengths and weaknesses in middle school and in high school. I have seen for myself how even the highest academic-performing teenagers will dismiss a standardized test so they can focus on assignments and projects that will advance their post-graduation aspirations. 

Between devastating budget cuts, ever-changing standards and the current teacher and substitute shortage, education in Michigan has faced a difficult decade. If there was ever a time to show educators grace and professional courtesy, it is now. Teachers don’t join board meetings and advise on how to best navigate supply chain challenges, and with all due respect, it’s time for businesses to stop assuming their best practices are equal benchmarks in schools.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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