Thursday, May 3, 2012

Test Obsessed

My kids have spent the last three weeks trapped in a stifling cage lined with bubble sheets and number two pencils. 

Week one, they had three days of state English/language arts assessment tests.

Week two, they had three days of state math assessment tests.

Week three, they had two days of another standardized test that is similar to the state assessments.

The worst part is, they’re not complaining.  They’ve just accepted insipid, monotonous test taking as a necessary part of life, like death and taxes.  So they stoically and obediently head off to school for another joyless day of boring and useless tests because the bureaucrats in Washington think this is a grand idea.

But I’m not taking it as well.  So to vent my frustration, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I oppose the recent test-taking marathon:

1. Standardized tests waste time. Education experts agree that standardized multiple-choice tests are not a valid measure of a student’s knowledge or skills. They are certainly not indicative of a teacher’s abilities or a school’s success. Even if standardized tests accurately reflected a student’s competency, they are still not a valid measure of teacher quality because many other factors affect student performance.

2. Standardized tests divert time from meaningful and enriching educational activities.  For example, middle school students in my school district missed out on a dynamic program that teaches American history through experiential learning methods because testing dominated the spring calendar. The spring book fair was also cancelled.

3. Standardized tests are administered inefficiently. Why are students forced to take two tests covering the same subject? Why do they have to endure three days of tests on the same subject? If we have to give students standardized tests, can’t we eliminate the redundancies and limit the time involved?

4. Standardized tests are used improperly. Standardized tests should not be used in student placement decisions since they are not an accurate reflection of a student’s abilities or aptitude. They should not be used to evaluate teachers and schools.  I will concede that standardized tests could potentially provide value if they were used to identify possible gaps in student learning. But to accomplish this goal, three things would have to happen:

a. Tests for each grade level must be developed with input from teachers to ensure they cover concepts taught at that grade level.

b. Test developers must ask clear, straightforward questions instead of attempting to confuse and trick test-takers. Anyone who experienced “Pineapple-gate” in New York knows what I’m talking about.

c. Most importantly, teachers should be allowed to give students their tests back after they are graded so the students can learn from their mistakes. This is the most egregious error in the government’s approach to testing. Students never see their tests after they are graded and, therefore, miss out on an opportunity to learn.

5. Standardized tests divert funding from educational programs. The only beneficiaries of the focus on testing are the companies that develop and sell standardized tests. Shamefully, funds that are sorely needed for educational programs and instructional materials are being spent on testing.

If you are also frustrated by the federal and state governments’ unjustified obsession with standardized tests, consider supporting educators, parents and concerned citizens in New York State and nationwide who are voicing their opposition.  For more information on this initiative, visit the following website