OEA meeting

Oklahoma Education Association president Linda Hampton listens to first-hand experiences of high-stakes testing from the crowd inside the Woodward High School Media Center on Thursday evening. (Photo by Kevin Weiss)

Over 30 people including teachers, administrators, parents and students gathered inside the Woodward High School Media Center to participate in the Oklahoma Education Association's (OEA) Common Sense Testing Tour on Thursday evening.

Together they viewed a documentary outlining the dangers of high-stakes testing and then shared their first-hand experiences with OEA President Linda Hampton about the troubles of high-stakes testing.

"I am just overwhelmed by the great response at the meeting," said Woodward Education Association President Michelle McDonald. "I am very happy that we had all segments of our community represented. That shows me this commitment to education is something that runs very deep within the entire community, not just with educators."

Woodward Superintendent Kyle Reynolds, who was one of a handful of administrators in attendance, also felt the town hall-style meeting was very beneficial for everyone involved.

"I thought the meeting that we had was very productive and we had a good representation of our staff there," he said. "I do like how the OEA presentation was prefaced that, 'we're certainly not against accountability and we are not against assessments, but we want to make sure that we're using assessments that are meaningful,' and we're also on the side of the research that says that the high-stakes component of testing simply doesn't have the validity that some has led us to believe."

McDonald, a teacher at Woodward High School, believes that high-stakes testing has instilled a fear of education in students, instead of a passion for it.

"I have witnessed students first-hand breaking down and crying during the test because they were so overwhelmed," she said. "I've had to literally pick up a girl almost off the floor out of my junior English class because she was devastated because she did not think that she got the appropriate score."

According to McDonald, the high-stakes testing culture has all but eliminated the critical thinking component of learning out of the classroom.

"Unfortunately it seems that teaching to the test is more about skills and drills and rope memorization," she said. "Because they're taking multiple-choice test items, what kids are having to do is move completely away from creativity, problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills.

Technology breakdowns and complications with the online tests has created another hurdle in the way of student anxiety.

"We've actually had that issue the last two years," McDonald said about online testing problems. "Anytime we get near testing, these kids wonder in the back of their minds, 'is my computer going to freeze up, is the technology going to work or am I going to get kicked out of my test?'''

The testing has also caused some panic from teachers, who feel they will be unfairly judged as educators based on results students receive from a single statewide test.

"With our new teacher evaluation model that has come into effect in the last two years, high-stakes testing is going to be a direct reflection upon our evaluations unless we get that changed, McDonald said, referring to the state's Teacher and Leader Effectiveness system. "The way that it was originally put in, student test scores account for 50 percent of our evaluation."

In order to change high-stakes testing legislation, McDonald added that more parents need to take an active role in their children's education and reach out to their legislators.

"We've seen some great changes in our state recently, but we're not finished yet and parents need to understand that they have a voice," she declared. "Make sure you know what your legislators are voting for, what they're voting against and don't be afraid to contact them; phone calls and emails work just as well as face-to-face contact."

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