A recent (music) video appearing on the Dallas ISD internal communication website, The Hub, is an all too authentic reminder of how the ‘testing’ culture has engulfed the realm of education. The video, while clever and cute in nature, truly is a must see – but for all the wrong reasons. A ‘pump-up’ video of sorts, Reilly Elementary School students sing and dance to a parody of the Top 40 Hit Song ‘Shut up and Dance,’ replacing the original words with “Come on Lets Pass the Test.” Sadly, events such as this around testing season are not unique to Reilly. Every spring, it has become common place to find urban schools across the country holding pep rallies, auctions, and other ‘motivators,’ in hopes that one last rendition of the school fight song or winning a McDonalds gift card through a raffle might just provide an elementary student with the extra boost of knowledge needed to ‘pass the test.’
Testing is a part of academic life – completely understood. It is when academic rigor is sacrificed at the expense of students and instead, replaced with weeks of test preparation, obsession, and rote memorization that such practices become problematic. I am not an academic researcher, but have yet to read an academic study that highlights the positive correlation between pep rallies and other testing incentives and improved student test scores. Furthermore, the absence of test hysteria in suburban schools, elite private schools, and other generally high performing schools, should very much call into question such tactics (in fairness, students from these schools experience a different type of testing anxiety often geared towards college entrance exams).
In short, why is this test obsession common place within schools and school districts that tend to serve a high percentage of minority and economically disadvantaged students – yet routinely absent from higher performing (and wealthier schools)?
At the end of the day, the video of students signing and dancing is harmless (and as mentioned, quite clever). The video however raises a much larger question around the way in which schools, specifically urban schools, are approaching high stakes testing. Not only is the over emphasis on testing questionable, but authentic teaching and learning is without a doubt sacrificed as the result of such an intense focus on test preparations – a practice that shouldn’t be acceptable or tolerated for students in urban school environments.