Investing in What Matters: Students' Emotional Safety vs. Test Security
Updated: May 5
There is a troubling imbalance in the priorities of our education system. While schools and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) have established policies to secure tests, the emotional safety of students has been neglected. As a result, the environment created within schools has become one that values test security over the well-being of students.
It is understandable why some schools, districts, or charter school networks may prioritize test security. Standardized test scores are often used to evaluate school performance and can impact funding and reputation. Additionally, schools may feel pressure from parents and the community to ensure the security of the tests to maintain the integrity of the results (Herman, 2013). However, research has shown that the amount of money spent on test security measures does not necessarily correlate with the actual security of the test (Popham, 2011). Schools may be allocating funds towards unnecessary security measures when they could instead use those funds for more impactful resources that benefit students.
For example, schools could allocate funds towards hiring additional school counselors, social workers, or mental health professionals. These resources have been shown to have a positive impact on students' emotional well-being and academic achievement (Eklund & Kilgore, 2014; Durlak et al., 2011). In contrast, excessive test security measures do not have a direct impact on students' academic achievement or emotional safety. Schools may also choose to invest in resources such as instructional coaches or professional development opportunities for teachers to improve the quality of instruction and support student learning (Goldhaber & Krieg, 2017). Prioritizing these resources over test security measures could lead to more significant and long-lasting benefits for students.
The education system has put an enormous amount of effort into ensuring the security of standardized tests (Gill, 2018). Teachers and administrators face severe consequences if they are caught tampering with test materials or results, often including fines or the loss of their professional licenses. This is important, as the integrity of standardized tests must be maintained. However, it is also worth questioning whether the resources devoted to test security come at the expense of other critical priorities, such as ensuring a safe and nurturing environment for our children.
Emotional safety is crucial for a child's development and overall well-being, and it should be a top priority in our schools. However, policies and procedures to protect students from emotional harm are often inadequate, if they exist at all. As a result, emotionally abusive adults may be allowed to continue working in schools, with their harmful behavior excused as "old school" or "tough love" (Baker, 2019). These adults can cause lasting damage to a child's self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being. Meanwhile, the consequences they face for their actions pale in comparison to those faced by educators who tamper with test materials.
When we prioritize test security over emotional safety, we send a clear message to our children that their well-being is less important than the interests of corporations and the preservation of standardized testing (Kang, 2021). This can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-worth, making it harder for children to thrive in the very environment that should be nurturing them. Furthermore, neglecting the emotional safety of our students can have long-term consequences for their academic success. A child who does not feel safe and supported in school is less likely to engage in the learning process and may struggle to achieve their full potential.
Some might argue that reducing a school’s investment in test security in order to prioritize students’ emotional well-being would detract from academic rigor. However, research suggests that prioritizing emotional safety can positively impact academic performance. A study by Durlak et al. (2011) found that schools that implemented social-emotional learning programs had significantly higher academic achievement scores than those that did not. In addition, a meta-analysis of 213 studies conducted by Durlak et al. (2017) found that social-emotional learning interventions had a positive impact on academic performance, as well as improvements in social-emotional skills, attitudes, and behaviors.
It is also important to note that emotional safety in schools is not just beneficial for academic performance, but it is also essential for promoting healthy mental and emotional development in students. When students feel emotionally safe, they are more likely to engage in learning, take risks, and develop healthy relationships with peers and adults. Emotional safety also promotes resilience, which is essential for coping with adversity and stress.
Prioritizing emotional safety in schools is crucial for promoting academic success and healthy development in students. It is important for educators, administrators, and policymakers to recognize the importance of emotional safety and implement effective strategies to support it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/covid-19/sel.htm
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