When I read the news last week that the New York State Education Department recently signed a $32 million contract with a new test developer, I started thinking about how $32 million could be used to foster learning, particularly in low-income school districts. Let’s forget for a minute that these tests may be useless—many education experts say standardized tests are not a valid measure of a student’s knowledge or skills. Let’s say standardized tests actually provided valuable information about student learning. It seems wasteful and illogical to spend money on assessing student learning without first investing in the resources students need to learn, like the following:
* Instructional Materials
Schools in low-income districts often don’t have enough books, desks and other resources students and teachers need. Students often lack basic school supplies, such as notebooks and pencils.
* Healthy Food
Even if students have the appropriate school supplies, they will not be ready to learn if they don’t eat properly. Many students rely on the meals they receive at school. We should be offering fresh, nutritious menu options, not processed foods that are high in salt, fat and chemical preservatives.
* Professional Development
About half of new teachers leave the professional after five years. Many new teachers feel overwhelmed and underprepared. Perhaps innovative, valuable professional development workshops would embolden new teachers.
* Parent Involvement
It’s clear that parent involvement has a positive impact on student achievement. We need to make it easier for parents to be involved, despite language barriers, time constraints and transportation issues. I recently met a teacher whose school organizes home visits for parent-teacher conferences. Some schools and community organizations are making an effort to provide translators so teachers can communicate with parents who don’t speak English.
Sadly, all of these overlooked areas will continue to languish until policymakers acknowledge the real weaknesses in our education system. I don’t think the solution is better tests.