October 26, 2015 Testimony from Annette Walen before the Senate Education Committee

/ 5 November 2015 / Shawna

My name is Annette Walen and I’m proud to be a 4th grade teacher in the Osseo School District.

I was one of the seven co-authors of the report, “Testing Better: How to Improve Minnesota’s Use of Assessments in Education.”

You will hear from two of my co-authors in a moment.

Our report was produced by the Educator Policy Innovation Center, or EPIC, a new part of Education Minnesota.

EPIC is a sort of think tank of educators. It was created so policy makers could hear from people who actually work in Minnesota’s schools.

EPIC makes policy recommendations grounded in personal experience and supported by academic research.

Personally, I came to this work because I’ve seen what the state’s current system of testing has done to my students.

Let me tell you about a student I had a few years ago named Ava.

She was struggling, inside and outside of school.

She came to school tired and hungry after the long drive her mother made from another district.

There was never enough time for breakfast, so I gave her a granola bar or some crackers every morning.

Ava went to reading and math class with her classmates, but was pulled out of every class for interventions the rest of the time.

Ava missed the camaraderie of homeroom. She missed most of science, social studies, writing and art that year. All so her test scores would go up in April.

Ava didn’t complain. She tried to please the adults in her school. And all that hard work did pay off – sort of.

Her scores increased – a lot – and we celebrated that growth.

However, Ava’s scores still indicated that she was below grade level. She was still labeled, “Does Not Meet Standards.”

Even after she gave up so much of what makes school fun and interesting to a fourth-grader.

Shortly after the test, Ava’s class wrote an essay about their year. Here’s what she wrote: “I wish I wasn’t so dumb.”

That’s what those standardized tests told her. And that’s why we need to overhaul this entire test-and-punish system – for students like Ava.

The U.S. Congress is now re-writing the No Child Left Behind Law that forces Minnesota schools to do so much testing.

The U.S. Senate has passed a version and so has the House. The two bills are being reconciled.

And you probably heard over the weekend that President Obama called for testing reform.

He said, “learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble.”

And he said, he wants “to make sure that our kids are enjoying learning, that our teachers are able to operate with creativity, to make sure we are preparing our kids for a lifetime of success.”

Those are excellent goals, but the details of how to achieve them may fall to you, the members of the Legislature.

If you get that chance, please take it. Please break the wheel of test prep, followed by testing, followed by more test prep and more testing.

My co-authors will now describe what we learned about testing from our research.

We will also make suggestions about ways to increase time for teaching and learning by reducing the days wasted on prepping and testing.

Thank you.