Friday, January 16, 2015

To Test, or Not to Test?

We hear, over and over, about how valuable a resource standardized tests are. We're to believe that they are the end all and be all of public education, that they are able to pinpoint how well the students are learning - as well as how well the teachers are teaching. But if you listen, even for a moment, to the people on the ground - the teachers, students, and parents - you hear quite another story.  And what seems far too prosaic to be considered is that perhaps the people who deal with education daily are the ones in the best position to determine the efficacy of that testing, and also the impact that testing makes in any given classroom.

The problem is relatively obvious when the information is presented. Simply put, each time a class takes a standardized test, at least a week prior to the testing is spent learning how to take the test. Even if they've taken half a dozen of these tests before, a week is spent going over the mechanics. How to be quiet, how to fill in the bubbles appropriately, how to wait and how to open books at the precisely right time. So the 26 week school year is decreased to 24 - losing one week in testing and one in test prep.

But then, the testing became more frequent. And now, students between the ages of 9 and 13 take a standardized test every year. Gone are the days of only the Iowa Basics every three years, children are taking new standardized tests every year from third grade to eighth, and then still a couple more in high school.  And we're still losing more and more time to these tests, as folks higher up the line, instead of realizing that these tests are a snapshot of a child's ability on one day under one set of conditions, and are subject to change depending on whether or not the child slept well the night before, those up-the-line folks determined that these tests were infallible.  After all, enough money was being spent on them that they darned well should be! And therefore, teacher performance reviews and continued employment was tied to these infallible measures of student learning.

Now what? You're a teacher. You know these tests don't measure what the higher ups say they do, but now your pay - and your continued employment - depend on the outcome of those same tests. You need your class to do well on these tests, year after year, in order to ensure your job stability, to make sure that you have a more pleasant working environment. And so, you wind up teaching to the test - you don't have a whole lot of choice if you want to keep your job.

Now, instead of losing two weeks to testing once every three years, all of education is being designed around those tests. And what are they testing?  Are they testing kindness?  How about caring?  Ingenuity? Maybe determination?  No.  They are testing how well students are learning to take the test, and how well teachers are teaching that test - and naturally scores are skewed based on bias in question construction, and region, language, dialect...  And so the teachers, and as a result, the students, are thrown under the bus. These kids are losing their education - it is being legislated away from them, piece by piece, and depressingly the people who actually make these changes are more entranced by the money from their lobbies than they are interested in the actual education and welfare of the children in their constituency.  And, sadly, the trend is poised to continue.

This post is a belated entry in Gifted Homeschoolers' Forum's #lesstests Rapid Response.  Please click here to read more on the topic!