As a teacher of 20 vibrant, curious and, yes, often challenging fourth graders at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, I constantly search for ways to improve my students’ learning experiences and to understand what will best help them succeed.

So, like many teachers around the state, as I began hearing about the new Smarter Balanced Tests (or MEA) that we are required to give our students this spring, I wanted to know how it would help me with the daily task of getting 20 learners to grow their hearts and minds in meaningful ways.

Here is a brief summary of what I have discovered.

First, no matter what my students and I do, statistics have already shown that my students will likely fall below proficient on this test. In the field test given a year ago, 91 percent of English Language Learners and nearly 80 percent of low-income students did not meet proficient. My class is comprised of 40 percent English Language Learners and nearly 100 percent are low-income.

Because new state legislation (required by the federal government if we are to keep valuable sources of funding) has already passed that will link my students’ results to my professional evaluation, this does not bode well for me or for my colleagues. School “grades” are suspended for one year because we do not yet have baseline data for those tests, but it does not take a statistician to predict that schools such as mine, with high levels of poverty and English Language Learners, will not look particularly good to the public once results are released in 2016.

Second, “assessment experts” (which seem to be primarily business consultants) within major, for-profit corporations such as McGraw-Hill and ETS were at the forefront of developing those tests.


Throughout the process, some teachers were asked for “input” (I was not one of them and I don’t know any teachers who were), but I have found it impossible to discern in what way this input was actually applied. Instead, a number of math and literacy experts have said publicly that many test items are far above grade level and are developmentally inappropriate. It is unclear why their advice was not heeded.

Meanwhile, billionaires, including Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, have spoken publicly about the wonderful potential those tests have to grow the education market.

Third, I will not be able to see the test as my students take it. I will not be allowed to look at their scrap paper. I will not even be able to talk with my colleagues about the test – before, during, or after. These are all provisions outlined in a lengthy security agreement that all teachers are required to sign prior to administering the test.

So, how will a test that, by its design, is likely to show that my students are failing, that was developed by “assessment experts” rather than teachers, that will no doubt funnel a tremendous amount of taxpayer money to wealthy corporate shareholders and away from our classrooms, and that I won’t be able to see or discuss it with my colleagues (let alone my students!) help me in my mission to improve the quality of education I offer my students each day?

It will not.

To the contrary, for at least 10 hours (maybe more, as I am required to provide unlimited time for my students to complete the test), this test will prevent me from offering my students the valuable instruction and learning experiences they deserve.

For a handful of students, it may even take us a few steps backward, as it takes work to regain some children’s confidence and sense of control of their own learning once they have taken disempowering tests like these.

My students and I will tough it out because we must, but as soon as it’s over, we’ll get back to doing the real, gritty, exhausting and inspiring work that happens in public schools each day.

Emily Talmage is in her third year of teaching at Montello Elementary School. Previously, she spent four years teaching special education in New York City. She has a master of science degree in urban education and a master of arts degree in developmental psychology.

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