Toxic environments can make a potentially great job terrible, a once happy family miserable, and a place of learning detrimental. And according to one Southeastern Louisiana University professor, James D. Kirylo, that’s just what standardized tests are doing to our schools.

Kirylo says the tests create “an incredibly toxic environment in our schools and in our discourse about education, ultimately turning schools from learning centers to testing factories.”

In the past few years especially, standardized tests have continued to grow in importance and reach across the nation. The push has been made in an effort to effectively judge how teachers, students and schools measure up on a national scale. The ideology is honorable, but the method may not be the best. Kirylo says the stakes are just too high.

No. 2 Pencils Image: Melissa Hincha-Ownby via Flickr

No. 2 Pencils
Image: Melissa Hincha-Ownby via Flickr

“These singular tests determine, presumably, whether are not students are learning; whether or not teachers are effective; whether or not students will be subjected to boring skill and drill summer sessions; whether or not they will pass on to the next grade level; and ultimately how schools are rated. Likewise, teachers and principals will be faced with either job insecurity or celebrated with public praise,” he said.

Many teachers feel that the strict standards do not leave enough room for innovation, creativity, or modification when students may need more time on some concepts. Instead of allowing students the time to fully absorb material and become engaged, they are pressured to perform well based on rote facts and knowledge.

And because so much hinges on their performance, both teachers and educators feel enormous pressure to succeed no matter what. That includes cheating, which is a widespread problem. Success on these tests is too narrowly defined as receiving high scores on tests. They do not look at effort, or improvement, or individual cases. They can test whether a child knows a fact, yes, but they cannot test whether they are learning.

“Schools don’t exist to win, they exist to be places of learning,” Kirylo says. “The task of the educator is not to compete with other educators, but to cooperate, collaborate and work together to lift all children up. Our children don’t attend school to pass a test; they attend school to learn. Unfortunately, our sick educational climate continues to inappropriately test our children out of learning.”