Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Do Standardized Tests Measure?

As the battle for school accountability heats up - and standardized tests like corporate-backed PARCC take center stage in the school year -people are finally beginning to ask what they're getting for all the hassle. Specifically this year, schools will see greater losses of instructional time to state testing. And these tests may not tell us anything valuable at all.

All the tests we administer can’t predict a child’s future. The tests don’t measure real learning. They measure test-taking ability. Research has shown that test scores are most accurate in measuring the socioeconomic level of the student. That’s correct. We use tests that don’t measure teacher competence or student learning to make or break careers, categorize children and place them in certain groups or pathways. We assume poor test scores mean a poor teacher, when often the opposite is true. We are obsessed with our ridiculous tests. The state legislature insists that test scores make up at least 50 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation. The lobbyists for Pearson, McGraw-Hill and others fund the campaign coffers of candidates and court high-level administrators to convince them we need more testing. And more testing is exactly what we get. What if we spent those millions on authentic testing, that actually allows students to demonstrate mastery of content by performing an action, doing a presentation or building something that explains the concept? What if we spent some of those millions on more observation in the classroom, or gathering feedback from parents and students that actually tells us how the teacher works with children, assigns homework, provides extra help or many of the myriad other indicators of professional competence?
Certainly, the public will simply not accept a system devoid of data from standardized tests. But parents and students should have greater "choice" in the demands the state puts on them. For, the fundamental aspect of public education is that the schools serve the students and families and not the other way around. And currently, it doesn't appear this obsessive focus on standardized testing is serving them at all.

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