Let’s Talk About Tests…Part I
Part I – Pros vs. Cons
Yes, for those of you from the original hip hop generation – this was a play on that famous Salt N Pepa song “Let’s Talk About Sex”.
Why? Because it seems that these days, talking about testing and NCLB is just as emotionally charged a topic as sex! But, as is my usual modus operandi, I’m gonna talk about it anyway. Why? Because we have to solve this for the children.
My purpose here is not to throw out testing entirely, but to curb it and make it more effective.
My purpose here is not to villify those who believe in our current paradigm of high stakes, multiple choice, superficial standardized testing, but to change minds and create an accord.
My purpose is to look at the aforementioned combination of words: high stakes + superficial / multiple choice + standardized = we have a problem.
My purpose here is not to transform our schools into environments where there is no evaluation, no grading – I think evaluation is necessary for teaching. But I think that evaluation needs to measure the progress along a line toward the actual desired product – students who can process information, take initiative, and innovate.
Before we truly solve this problem, we absolutely have to look at the reasons and the “pro” side of standardized testing. The reason – these are issues that we cannot escape and therefore must acknowledge in order to come up with solutions that actually work. I sincerely doubt that all of those who fought for and then approved NCLB and the move toward excessive standardized testing are stupid. I think it’s more likely that they were uninformed, unimaginative and had really complicated issues to solve. Any two of those three ingredients spell a recipe for disaster. So, let’s dig a little deeper….
What Made Us Think “Yes to Standardized Testing”?
1. Kids are competing for spots at colleges / universities from wildly different school systems, such that grades alone can’t be a fair separator.
2. We live in a culture that values superficial, number based measurement – i.e., if person “x” has more money, they must be better than person “y”.
3. We didn’t want to continue rewarding bad schools that produced bad results.
4. Testing companies can make a lot of money and therefore put a lot of money toward lobbying.
5. We wanted to find a way to measure across the board what kids were learning, without taking up too much instructional time.
6. Stuff that’s easy to measure is easy to measure.
7. It was an effort to measure the achievement gap between different socioethnoeconomic groups.
8. It confers the ability to create systematic reporting – resulting in clear information about how kids are doing (on standardized tests).
What Makes Us Think “No to NCLB Type Standardized Testing”?
1. Multiple Choice tests do a poor job of testing the processing skills, creativity, and reasoning of a young student.
2. When standardized tests are made the most important of measures, the natural reaction is to “teach to the test”. This does not result in independent thinkers, but instead in well trained “regurgitators”. This phenomenon is found repeatedly in “incentivization” paradigms.
3. The realization that that to think the following is wrong: “Since other successful countries engage in large scale standardized testing, then this must be why they do better”. This thinking completely ignores the factors of higher comparative teacher pay and greater selectivity in teacher training programs, placing all of the importance on standardized testing.
4. The evidence against high stakes standardized multiple choice testing looms large.
5. States have purportedly taken the strategy of adjusting their standards to “curve” the test scores.
What I want to do is bring the two sides closer together. There is a much happier middle ground between “NO TESTING” and “WE NEED MORE TESTING”. The true issue is not whether to do standardized testing – but how the tests are constructed, how often they are done, what importance they are given in evaluating schools, and how important they are in funding major influencers in a child’s education like teacher salaries.
In my next post, “Let’s Talk About Tests…Part II”, I will discuss some possible solutions I think could work. For now, let’s hear your thoughts…