Sunday, February 8, 2015

Dick Hilker Offers Naive & Mis-informed View on Testing Debate in Colorado

Standardized testing remains the hot topic across the nation and in the legislature of Colorado as "pro-testing" and "protesting" forces battle over how much is enough and whether we should put PARCC-in-place or simply park-PARCC. To that issue, former newspaper columnist - and occasional curmudgeon - Dick Hilker believes the state should "leave standardized testing alone." Hiller takes a rather general and non-researched view that there's nothing wrong with testing ... and he then proceeds to disparage parents, teachers, kids, and public education.

Among those complaining: Educrats who claim test results really don't prove anything. Teachers who say they have to spend so much time "teaching to the test" that kids don't learn anything important. Parents who refuse to let their youngsters take the tests on the grounds that the pressure of performing well causes all types of emotional trauma.
Balderdash. These are probably the same people who think letter grades should be abolished and every child should be given a smiley face at the end of the year. If Tommy gets a tummy-ache before a core test, how can he possibly handle a college entrance exam, or even a classroom test that might mean the difference between him getting an A or B? Fortunately, most people have figured out that we can't improve our schools by simply providing them with more and more money. Improvement first requires a high degree of accountability on the part of school boards, administrators, teachers, individual schools and pupils. No one has found a way to measure progress — or the lack thereof — except by testing.
There are more than a few problems with Hilker's (mis)-view:

While his claims of "balderdash" and his mockery of teachers, parents, and children may entertain some readers, it really does nothing to complement or further the discussion.
This year students and teachers at hundreds of high schools around the state will lose ten or more days of instruction in order to complete the PARCC/CMAS tests. That's a simple hard reality of scheduling/proctoring of which Hilker has little-to-no understanding. However, students will/can complete the ACT (and associated ACT-Aspire tests for 9th & 10th graders) in one morning. And, we all know that ACT is the standard benchmark for college readiness nationwide. Thus, Hilker's call to simply leave the current testing requirements alone seems wildly misinformed ... and it lacks the critical thinking we hope to teach all students.

Additionally, the second round of PARCC comes a week before the state ACT and AP exams, and schools can expect that few juniors and AP students will bother to take the PARCC when the ACT and AP are what actually matter to them. Many will instead spend time preparing for AP exams. And, I can't say I blame them for their refusals, though as an educator, I must promote their participation in a test they don't value, and I will suffer any state reprisals that come from such refusals. 
Clearly, the push-back against testing is not simply an attempt to avoid accountability. It's actually a fact-based criticism and challenge of making accountability about a single test score which does not reflect anything other than the ability to take a test. Well, that and family income. As far as parents opting out, and Hilker's disparaging comments about "Tommy's tummy-ache," I'd argue he has some homework to do because there are numerous legitimate reasons for test refusal. 

Case in point - my 12-year-old son is currently studying calculus and recently won the Denver Math Counts competition, solving complex algorithms in less time than some pro-athletes run the 40. Obviously, the 7th-grade PARCC math exam is a colossal waste of his time. It's also a waste of resources to schedule such a test for him. And, as a veteran educator who has taught in schools from Denver to Taiwan, I have serious concerns about the quality and ability of the PARCC to accurately measure all students' strengths and weaknesses. It's not about a tummy-ache - it's much more complicated than that.

Obviously, Dick Hilker has a great deal of contempt for teachers and for public education, and he desires a convenient quick fix in the form of a test that will diagnose and solve all of education's challenges. Yet, it's simply not true that "no one has found a way to measure progress except for testing." Schools measure all day and all year through numerous means of data collection. And for the majority of students these measures work quite well. That's, of course, not to dismiss the challenges faced by roughly a third of schools and students. There are serious problems and challenges for many students. Testing critics simply point out that education is a complex system that can't be "fixed" by a standardized test.

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