Month: November 2015

Standardized Testing: The Jury is Out

A few benefits of standardized testing is that it gives teachers a framework for instruction throughout the year. Some would say that the grade level state standards are intended to provide this needed framework for instruction, but on the other hand how would we determine if students are actually learning the standards and if teachers are teaching them?

Every job that is done well should have some level of accountability attached to it. However the best type of accountability is one that is self-imposed, and one fatal mistake that our national educational system makes over and over is the assumption that teachers in general are playing the system. Unfortunately we don’t give most teachers enough credit for their pursuit of professionalism; this a problem because those teachers who are driven by work ethic and pure passion are over burdened with all of the precautions put in place to catch wrongdoers.

I’ll admit, there are bad apples in every batch–even in education–and that is what yearly standardized testing is supposed to catch, in a perfect world anyway.

One huge factor that thwarts the perfect solution of using standardized tests to measure student and teacher performance is the test itself. In our country alone, we have different regions with different dialects, and families with different experiences and outlooks on the world. Population pockets and communities in the southern regions will have different values than those in the mid-western and the New England regions. Because of this there will be a difference in teachable moments and perceptions. It is unrealistic to expect a child in a southern Mississippi town to have the same understanding of the same concept as a child who lives in New York City. Nor can we realistically expect their teachers to teach the same way. These factors are in no way the teacher’s or the child’s fault, in fact, there is no fault to be had. We may be the United States, but the only things that truly unite us is national pride and a centralized government. But we are not identical in our perception of the world or what we value most in our personal lives.

So, I said all of that to make this point: each state should have their own set of basic standards, and the standardized test given to the students in that state should be made by educators in that state. I understand the intentions of the common core state standards, and I agree that it is important to teach students to think about the big picture. However, big picture concepts cannot be taught in a multiple choice test in which students must read a lengthy, complicated passage and guess which answer is most right in a list of possibly right answers. If our goal is to determine if our students are knowledgeable enough in the grade level skills to begin the next grade level, why does the test have to be so complicated and frustrating, especially when students know that they don’t necessarily have to pass the test to pass that grade?

I recently spoke to a student who habitually does not make an effort to do ANY work in my class and currently has a failing grade. I informed him that if he does not change his daily behavior, then I will see him in seventh grade again next year. He replied, “No you won’t. They told me the same thing last year, and I passed anyway.” This student consistently scores very low on progress monitoring tests, and he doesn’t even try to do anything academic in class. He is not academically or mentally prepared to progress to the next grade level, yet somehow he skates through the system and there is no objective eye to hold him accountable.

If we are going to use standardized tests in schools, they should be used as a venue to hold students accountable, not just teachers. I guarantee you that there are teachers all across America who are diligently leading students to the water who refuse to drink.

As a middle school teacher in a Title 1 school, where many of my students are deficient in basic grammar skills, such as identifying different parts of speech and their role in developing sentences, even the basic structure of a sentence, the common core state standards and the “new” method of teaching is not a fan of teaching anything in isolation. As a result, none of these skills are tested in isolation either. After administering the PARCC test last year and teaching common core standards, I realize that the standards and the test do not address reinforcing basic skills.

I do have a problem with the heavy reliance on testing in our current educational system, but I also am troubled by the amount of students who are passed to the next grade without being adequately prepared. I believe that if we are going to use tests in the schools, they should be used in a meaningful way. They should be used to determine the acquisition of basic skills for promotion, not as a platform for mental gymnastics that has no tangible value for the students taking them.