Skip to content

James Kirylo: “That Time of Year: Spring and Testing”

April 19, 2017

Below is a guest post by my valued colleague, James Kirylo, who taught at Southeastern Louisiana University before accepting a position at the University of South Carolina. He has also taught at the University of South Alabama, Universidad Evángelica del Paraguay, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

  James Kirylo

As I read Kirylo’s post, I noted its timeliness.

The flowers are blooming and the lawnmowers are humming all over my neighborhood.

Must be testing season.

That Time of Year: Spring and Testing


 James D. Kirylo

It is that time of the year again.  The unfolding of nature with its brilliance in color, its sweet aroma, and the emergence of new life gives pause and illuminates all that is good.  It is also that time of year when public schools across South Carolina—indeed the nation—energetically announce standardized test “kick-off” time with pep rallies, balloon send-offs, and a host of other activities, further reducing what schooling has sadly become.  Spring is in the air.

Though spring and the birth of new life have had their way since the beginning of time, the intense association of testing and spring is a relatively new phenomenon.  Particularly since 1983 when a major document titled A Nation at Risk purported that public education was doing a mediocre job, which was followed by subsequent school reform efforts (e.g., No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and others), there has been a proliferation of standardized testing in American public education.

Whereas in 1950 those who completed high school took only approximately three standardized tests through their entire K-12 experience, and whereas in 1991 those who completed their K-12 experience took an average of 18-21 standardized tests, students today upon completion of their K-12 school experience can take anywhere between 60-100 standardized tests.  In short, more than 100 million standardized tests are administered yearly across the U.S., annually costing the states approximately 1.7 billion dollars.

This intense focus on testing and its results have moved into the realm of obsession, so much so that we now refer to “high-stakes” testing simply because they are becoming the sole criteria on how we assess and evaluate our children, teachers, administrators, and school districts.  In short, the “reform” movement provoked by A Nation at Risk can be characterized as one that is now controlled by the profit-making testing industrialized complex.

Truly, it has become disturbingly normalized in explaining reform efforts with detached terminology such as outcomes, ratings, scores, performance, monetary rewards, school takeovers, school closures, competition, and comparing and contrasting.  As a result we have created an educational system that is analogous to describing a for-profit corporation, which ultimately results in the creation of “winners” and “losers.”

This corporate-speak loses sight of the humanity behind this type of discourse, which works to objectify school-aged youth, fosters a constricted view of what is educationally important, and largely blames teachers if students don’t “perform” to some kind of arbitrary expectation.

Make no mistake, this testing environment has placed school-aged youngsters under unnecessary stress, where many are fearful, dealing with bouts of panic, crying spells, apathy, sleeplessness, and depression.  Therefore, it ought not be of any great surprise that droves of parents from around the country have opted-out their children from taking these tests, a number among which I include myself.

And perhaps ironically, this testing movement has yielded very little positive results in improving our schools.  In fact, one could argue that our nation is more at risk than it was 30 years ago, still leaving scores of children left behind. Indeed, illiteracy remains high, millions of children still live in poverty, and countless of youngsters are still attending classes with limited resources in schools that are old and dilapidated.

Of course, we aren’t able to constructively work on solutions unless we recognize that there is an awareness of the problem.  That is, unless policy-makers and other decision-making entities realize that a test-centric environment is ultimately unhealthy for our youth, we will continue down this spiral of alienating many of them from opportunity, equity, and a developmentally appropriate educational experience.

To that end, as we consider school aged youth during this time of year, perhaps the moment has come—this spring—that we rethink how we assess and evaluate our school-aged youth.  In fact, if we exert the same amount of energy, fervor, and expense on rectifying structural inequalities as we do on our testing fixation, and if we would celebrate schooling with pep rallies and balloon send-offs with which we genuinely recognize the individual gifts, talents, and uniqueness of all children through multiple fashions, I would argue we would see an emergence of new life in our schools.  Spring is in the air.


James D. Kirylo is associate professor of education at the University of South Carolina.  His latest book is titled Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, and How We Teach (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. “Of course, we aren’t able to constructively work on solutions unless we recognize that there is an awareness of the problem. That is, unless policy-makers and other decision-making entities realize that a test-centric environment is ultimately unhealthy for our youth, we will continue down this spiral of alienating many of them from opportunity, equity, and a developmentally appropriate educational experience.”

    This is, of course, the best response to policymakers and reformers who counter our opposition by implying that we have no solutions to offer. Their accusation is analogous to putting water in the gasoline and expecting the mechanic to render it operational without changing out the fuel.

  2. This time a year also is a special time for teachers. Here is something I wrote a few years ago and it still applies.

    Wasting Away and It’s Not at Jimmy Buffet Song!!

    The last week of April has come to mean a time of the school year when the world comes to a halt. All teachers and students stop down so that we can give the required state mandated tests.

    This week just symbolizes the level of absurdity that testing has reached. We spend a week in which students are not being educated, they are regurgitating what they were supposed to learn and know.

    Teachers go brain dead because they are required to “actively monitor” students during testing. They are not allowed to read, check email, text, work on puzzles or anything else that will keep them from going brain dead. After 3 or 4 hours of active monitoring the teachers brains have turned to mush. To actively monitor is to circulate around the room, scan and otherwise observe the students during testing.

    The weeks following testing are usually a time for survival. Students are of the mindset that since the tests have been taken, then the school year is over. Most teachers work hard to prepare good lessons and keep their students engaged. Sometimes it is much like trying to herd cats. All the best intentions don’t always get the job done.

    Oh, how I wish I had a good Sodoku or Crossword to work on….as my mind turns to mush.

    Best of luck to all teachers and students. Teachers be sure to do something to stimulate your mind this week. After all, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”!

  3. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    The corporate education testing industry is crushing our public school children.

  4. Mark Wade permalink

    Ms. Schneider,

    Would you possibly be able to point me in the direction of any research that looks into the downstream developmental effects of multiple-year Common Core curricular implementation in the early grades? As a second grade teacher in a relatively middle-class community, I am seeing more and more disruptive or distracted behavior in my students. This is also been observed by my colleagues from kindergarten to fifth grade.

    Of course, there are plenty of social and familial factors that come into play, on which decades of research has focused. Nonetheless, I can’t believe that the consistent exposure of the very young to state-mandated, but developmentally inappropriate instructional regimes–e.g., shifting higher-level concepts and skills into ever-lower grade levels (spelling tests in kindergarten)–isn’t having a degree of negative psychological and behavioral impact on students in the classroom (and at home) as they progress through the grade levels.

    I have seen plenty of research on the inappropriateness of Common Core implementation in the early years, research which highlights the contradiction between what is known about early childhood development vs. the expectations of Common Core content and the stress of high-stakes standardized testing. I have yet to find, however, anything that investigates the potential psychological/behavioral impacts of these counterproductive instructional policies as they may express themselves in the k-2 classroom, before standardized testing comes into the picture.

    I appreciate any help you might be able to offer.

    Thank you,

    Mark Wade

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. James Kirylo: Our Obsession with Standardized Testing is Inhumane | Diane Ravitch's blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s