Saturday, September 15, 2012

Testing Testing

If I could snap my fingers and change one thing about American schools, I would get rid of standardized tests. What began as a well-intentioned attempt to assess students' needs has become a mania that replaces education with almost meaningless data.

A recent op-ed from the Star Tribune, written by a suburban teacher named Dawn Quigley, makes my case.

Quigley's school gives the NWEA tests in the fall and spring. It's computer-based and covers math and reading. (To the student, this is experienced as four tests each year.)

Throughout the year there are Accelerated Reading tests, based on particular books the students read. And then there are the EXPLORE tests in 8th and 9th grade, covering multiple subjects. Then we get to the state's own assessment tool, the MCA, which examines math and reading in 3rd - 8th grades, plus 10th grade), science in 5th, 8th grade, and again in high school, and writing in 9th grade. (I've written before about the quality of the grading on the writing test, as well as Daughter Number Three-Point-One's experience with it.)

She writes, "In some districts last year, eighth-grade students took eight standardized tests -- if not more. At times, teachers had difficulty getting into a school's computer lab for research papers or projects because the lab was tied up with -- you guessed it -- testing."

Aside from the amount of time spent on testing and review and not on new topics, there is also the fact that what the tests supposedly test isn't what they sometimes test. Her example is from reading: understanding a passage from Shakespeare, for instance, may be counted wrong or right by whether the student can differentiate between a metaphor and a simile. This is not reading comprehension; it's literary knowledge. Other questions rely on the student sussing the question, rather than responding in a personal way to the text they read.

You can be assured that students at high-quality private schools are not wasting their time this way. In elementary school, most of them are not being regimented to death, and they are not going without the art, music, and physical activity that children need to keep school lively. They are learning to love learning, which is supposedly the point of this education business in the first place.


Michael Leddy said...


If anyone has any doubt that these tests are not working: ask any college teacher at a non-Ivy, non-elite school what it's like when students read aloud.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Very sad. And you're right, they began with good intentions, mostly.