Nearly 94 percent of teachers surveyed by the Missouri State Teachers Association support suspending state-mandated tests this year.
The survey released this week reflects the responses of more than 6,000 public school teachers in the state. MSTA said 3,500 responded in the first 24 hours.
"Teachers wanted to have their voice heard," said Bruce Moe, MSTA executive director. "They have something that they wanted to say and somebody needed to ask them."
Only 6.3 percent of the teachers surveyed were against suspending standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state has long required students in grades 3-8 to be tested annually in reading and math. High school students must also take standardized end-of-course exams in many core classes required for graduation.
The survey was open to all Missouri teachers, not just MSTA members. Some of them uploaded video and audio clips with additional comment, which the association shared with their permission.
"Anecdotally I knew how much stress teachers were under, how pulled in different directions they felt — the desire to be with their students, the pressure from community, the support they were or weren't getting from board and administrators — I think it was heartbreaking," Moe said. "I saw the emotion of these teachers who desperately want to do what is best for their kids ... and are feeling overwhelmed."
The Missouri State Board of Education decided in early December to proceed with state-mandated exams — typically given each spring — but noted the results will not be used as a factor in state and federal accountability systems.
In the past, the test results were a factor in determining state accreditation of a district and if a district, school or student subgroup met certain benchmarks.
The state, citing the pandemic, suspended standardized tests in spring 2020.
"Professional educators in the classroom understand that standardized testing takes a significant amount of time away from instruction. It just does," Moe said. "It's not just the giving of the test, it is the preparation leading up to the test."
According to the survey, 96.1 percent of teachers said students would benefit more from increased instructional time than standardized testing.
"I won't rush through content just to expose them to it. I would much rather go at a pace where we can actually learn and understand it," said Xandra Potter, a teacher in North Kansas City, in a video posted on MSTA.
"The standardized test would just add additional pressure and stress and feelings of inadequacy to me and to my students."
Webb City teacher Tiffany Bolin said teaching during a pandemic is exhausting and many of her students are stressed out.
"The things as educators that we've been taught to do to help increase team-building and group bonding are no longer safe for us to do in a pandemic so we are trying to rebuild the airplane while it's flying at its top speed," she said.
Bolin said she doesn't have the same group of kids from one day to the next because she teaches in person but is also responsible for helping quarantined students learn, whether they have internet access or not.
"I'm teaching my lessons in class to them while also trying to make electronic versions of everything ... and then I have to make non-electronic versions of it for my kids who do not have internet access, who still need to stay caught up in some way," Bolin said in the video. "So it's kind of like trying to teach all the same classes three times a day every single day to make it work."
She said even with a supportive administration, the district has been short on substitute teachers. Teachers who are present have been called on to help cover classes during their planning periods.
"I'm working harder than I've ever worked before, with less time to accomplish things, with students who need more than they've ever needed before," she said. "And I don't have answers for this. I just know something has got to give."
State-mandated exams are typically proctored in a classroom with oversight. They are not taken at home.
Even if given online, teachers responding to the survey said only about two-thirds of students will have the access required to take the tests.
As part of the survey, teachers were asked how their stress and anxiety compare to one year ago and 80 percent said they experienced a "significant increase" and 17.1 percent described it as a "slight increase."
Julie Davis, a teacher from Bolivar, said teaching this year was like "drinking from a fire hydrant and also filling cups and distributing them to students from the same fire hydrant and trying to stay dry in the process."
"Including standardized testing would add to that something equivalent to, let's say, now you have to juggle six balls," she said, in the video.
Teachers, in the survey, were asked if the past year spurred any serious consideration of leaving the profession and 57.3 percent said yes.
Brian Burgoyne, a teacher in Winfield, said he has 19 years experience and this one has been the worst, by far. He said the district moved to full virtual learning in the spring and part of the fall before abruptly shifting to full-time in-person instruction with no masking requirement.
"By Halloween, two-thirds of the high school was out," he said.
Burgoyne said high absentees due to positive cases or quarantines often require time to be spent remediating students, instead of teaching new material.
"This is the first year I've actually ever thought that I'm really not valued as a teacher. I don't think anyone is," he said. "I'm really considering leaving the profession."
In the video, he said he shared his concerns with the school board during a meeting.
"From the audience, I was heckled," he recalled. "I was called a liar and a coward because I was 'living in fear.'"
MSTA, which strongly supported suspending state-mandated exams this year, hopes the state school board will reconsider. Moe said while he understands the need for gathering data, the results this year will likely be incomplete.
Shannon Berghoff, a teacher in Jackson, said many students have developed skill gaps because of the extended spring break in Missouri — during which students were not in class at all — and the ongoing upheaval caused by the pandemic.
She argued, in the video, that time devoted to testing would be better spent teaching.
"To test to show that they're failing because they're missing that time just seems kind of odd," she said. "Instead, I'd like to use that time to help fill those gaps, and help my students improve and feel successful and ready for the following year."