Standardized Testing in School

I love how my kids are becoming more insightful, both of them have shown a lot of that lately and today Jake dropped a great bomb.

Katie: “Oh, we’ve got a rally today at school.”

Jake: “What makes them think that a rally is going to make us ‘excited’ about CST tests this week?”

Atta boy.  He get’s it.  Rally’s DON’T get kids excited to spend the next 4 days this week bubbling tests in a quiet, boring, static environment.  NOTHING get’s kids motivated for these tests, unless they have some intrinsic motivation or competitiveness.  But the reality is that by 6-7-8th grade, all kids have been beaten over the head by these tests and the “test prep” that happens year long but ramps up the week prior (or longer).

And when the kids are told that these are “the most important tests you’ll ever take” because it will determine what college you get into, that’s BS also.  But that’s what the principal’s and teachers are asked to say, because they need the scores to be as high as can be.  Doesn’t matter if they stress out some of the kids or turn off many, many others with a transparent lie.  These are NOT the most important tests and they know it.

Here’s the thing.  These tests (in California) only measure Language Arts (English), Social Science, Science (but not in every grade) and Math.  California’s test are what are called “criterion referenced”, which measure, in the words of the California Department of Education, “the California content standards in ELA, mathematics, science, and history-social science.”  That means they only measure what California thinks is important (but this may change soon). Read more here.

Almost all of the questions are multiple choice (maybe all, it’s been 4 years since I saw one) and most competent humans understand that multiple choice tests do not come close to effectively measuring knowledge or ability.  “Life is not a Multiple Choice Test”.

Beyond the arguments about how good/bad the actual test is, let’s talk more about how school districts use the test and how scores on the tests are used by districts, state departments of education and the Feds.

It fails from the top.  Tests are used by the Federal Department of Education ( to evaluate the effectiveness of a state.  The state Dept. of Ed (DOE) then uses those test scores to evaluate and grade school districts and individual schools.  The school districts put immense pressure on principals to “get your scores up”, even as the state cuts funding, class sizes increase and teachers are laid off.  I feel sorry for the principals in this situation, they get heat from above and also from the teachers that they almost are required to badger to improve scores.

Here’s a situation:  Teacher A has been teaching for 15 years, has a good curriculum, knows the material and engages the students.  Because this teacher is able to handle a tough class, sometimes (a lot) the principal may drop a few extra “difficult” students in the room.  These students can be a challenge but let’s say that this teacher is able to reach most of them because the class is active and they are motivated by the teacher.  Then comes this 4 day testing thing, which the kids can’t stand because it’s “boring”.  Which it is.  They are told by the principal that “these are very important tests” but the kids know that they won’t be graded on them and that the tests are only important to the adults.  So, without real motivation to do well, many of the kids, difficult and not so difficult, just flow through the test and don’t put a lot of effort into it.  Can you guess what happens?  Yep, scores are not as high as perhaps they should be, principals catch heat from above, teachers are asked to do more “test prep”, which is only teaching to the test (and usually not fun or motivating, because the kids know what you’re doing), etc.

In the near future, that teacher may be given a “grade” based on the scores of the students on these tests. And even though this teacher succeeds in improving the reading/writing/science/math/social science knowledge and ability of his/her students, it won’t be reflected on the test.  Regardless of the reality, the teacher may be labeled “ineffective”.

Oh, wait, that already happened in NYC and Los Angeles.  And one teacher in LA actually committed suicide after his name and test scores of his students were posted online by the LA Times.  And Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education for Pres. Obama, applauded the publication of scores for teachers.  Until he thought it was a bad idea and pulled back.  Figure it out Arne.

It’s a bad situation and it’s only being made worse. Everybody wants “accountability” and a simple, “standardized” way to grade students, teachers, principals, schools and districts.  But that is not possible with a multiple choice test.

I agree that we need some form of testing, so that we can evaluate what is happening in the classroom.  But teachers do that every day, every minute when they are walking around the room, asking questions, “checking for understanding” and, yes, giving tests.

Solution:  trust the teachers and principals to run the school, have district level assessments that include reading, writing and analysis rather than multiple choice tests and provide the funding for the administration and grading of those assessments.

By the way, you can also “Opt Out” of testing for your kids.  Here’s some information on that:  Opt Out

Information on California’s tests here.

*** New info:  Schools may get scores back in a few weeks rather than months.  Which is good.  *****  Read about it here.


One thought on “Standardized Testing in School

  1. I wanted to “opt out” my daughter, in elementary school. She pleaded that I NOT, as she would be given a TON of extra work. That isn’t right, either!

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