Kathy Rugh, fourth-grade teacher, Gold Camp Elementary, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12
"There are a lot of things that standardized tests can't measure," Rugh says, and they tend to be the very things that studies and best-sellers are now saying are the best predictors of educational success — things like grit, curiosity, resourcefulness and determination.
Still, Rugh says she recognizes there is value to some standardized testing. The problem is in how it's being applied.
"We just don't have the time," she says, "to do the exploration and the in-depth things that are fun that really get the kids engaged."
Among her other gripes: The computer program the PARCC tests run on is difficult for kids with limited typing and computer skills; with so much riding on test scores, she's forced to choose between teaching testing skills, which may prioritize three-sentence answers, and real-life skills, like writing an essay; PARCC questions are often so confusing that kids don't know what they're being asked to do; and the way that PARCC blends skills — for instance, asking for written answers to math questions — can lead to poor scores in areas where a child is actually gifted.
Plus, for all the time investment, Rugh says, PARCC scores aren't all that useful because by the time the state issues them, the school year is over.
Allyson Fox, fourth-grade teacher, Stratmoor Hills Elementary, Harrison School District 2
Fox is a fan of standardized testing, which she says brings needed accountability to classrooms and districts.
She also thinks the PARCC rightly forces kids to apply their knowledge to real-world situations, and that it's more challenging than past state tests, which she felt were too easy. But she also thinks the PARCC takes too long and is too difficult. Fox says some teachers have even had trouble figuring out questions on the fourth-grade exam.
"We kind of went from one extreme to another," she says.
Like Rugh, she'd also like to see results earlier — though she says they're useful no matter what because they help her understand what she can do better, and what skills her next students may be lacking.
"I think, as a teacher, we need to be reflective," she says.
Michael Miller, German teacher, Cheyenne Mountain Junior High, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12
Miller doesn't like losing class time to standardized tests, but says he could get behind a test he felt was "reasonable."
"A true test," he says, "should be short, to the point, like one hour or less. It should be pretty immediate feedback of how we're doing, and more or less painless."
Miller, however, says he generally favors less regimented education. Standards and testing, he says, lead to a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't work. He'd like to see students directing their own education, pursuing the passions that motivate them to want to learn and help them move on to the next steps in their lives, whether college or a trade.
"Since when," he asks, "does an auto mechanic need to know Shakespeare?"
Veronica Layman, sixth-grade math teacher, Fox Meadow Middle School, Harrison School District 2
'We were afraid of this awful thing called PARCC," Layman says, "and it's not that awful."
Layman says her students seem to enjoy doing tests on the computer, and she really likes the tests' multi-step questions because they force kids to explore their knowledge rather than just apply a formula. In fact, Layman says, she's using the test to help structure her lesson plans.
But she'd still like to see some changes to PARCC. The school is in test-mode for 2½ months, she says, and that's too long. She'd rather see the test concentrated into a shorter period at the end of the year, or have short tests administered throughout the year that wouldn't use a lot of class time.
Joe Bachofen, ,teacher and math department chair, Cheyenne Mountain High School, Cheyenne Mountain School District 12
Standardized tests, Bachofen says, come around at the same time his kids are taking the ACT and Advanced Placement exams for college.
The barrage can lead to burnout, and by the time his students settle back into the classroom, he needs to re-explain concepts to get them back on track. It all seems superfluous to him — shouldn't the ACT be enough?
"From a high school perspective," he says, "I think [standardized tests are] highly questionable."
Bachofen has also run into problems with the tests' content. His school teaches integrated math instead of sectioning it out into Algebra 1, Algebra 2, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. Bachofen says state regulators have suggested that D-12 change its math program so that it better suits the tests. The district has declined to do so.
On a broader level, Bachofen says, he worries that a few large companies that produce standardized tests might have undue influence on education, and that subjects that aren't tested will be deemphasized or even cut because they aren't viewed as important.
"You tend to leave behind things that are vital for kids," he says. "There are kids that wouldn't be here if not for art, if not for music, if not for shop."
Keith Bisaillon, band director, Harrison High School, Harrison School District 2
Bisaillon may not teach a subject that's tested by PARCC, but that doesn't mean he's not affected by standardized tests.
Harrison has actually designed four tests for Bisaillon's students: three written exams and a performance test. At first, Bisaillon says, he was terrified of the tests, which band directors in similar positions don't have to undergo. But he says he's been pleased by the feedback it gives him, and by the fact that the district is very open to him making suggestions about what should be on the test.
Interestingly, he says the PARCC test does impact him — and not in a good way. He loses a total of four weeks of classroom time to the PARCC, and even more to other tests, like Advanced Placement tests. And most of that comes at a time when he's trying to prepare his kids for major performances and competitions. That's particularly challenging for a band class, he points out, because to succeed, bands need to practice together.
"In a class like mine if I have five students that are missing that negatively affects every single student in that classroom," he says.