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Oh, Those Pesky Tests Oh, Those Pesky Tests

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Oh, Those Pesky Tests

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Elementary school students in Phoenix, Arizona.(Fawn Johnson)

Standardized testing is getting something of a bad rap these days.

First, groups of agitators in several different states are trying to get their governors to back out of two testing consortia that will assess student achievement under the new Common Core State Standards. The states on the fence about the testing include North Carolina and Kentucky. Scores dropped precipitously in both states when they changed to the new tests, which made officials in other states nervous.

 

That fight is as much about the resistance to Common Core as it is about testing in general. And isn't it always at test time that the friction breaks through the surface?

Still, maybe it's time to step back and ask the broader question about how we can tell that schools are doing their jobs without driving parents, teachers, and kids absolutely crazy.

I am in a quandary about this one. My sixth grader tells me that his teachers replace lessons with prep when test time comes around in the spring. He says his math teachers, particularly, become really stressed out. I sympathize, but I also greatly appreciate seeing his scores later in the year to see how he is faring. Even more to the point, I appreciate seeing how his school measures up against other area schools, stuff I wouldn't know without standardized tests.

 

The complaints go beyond Common Core. In Washington, D.C., Chancellor Kaya Henderson last week set up a special task force to figure out "how we can do testing better" in the wake of parent and teacher complaints that kids spent too much time preparing for tests rather than actually learning.

In New York City, some schools are actively promoting parents' ability to opt out of standardized testing. More than 500 principals in the state have signed on to an open letter to parents complaining that the amount of testing has increased dramatically in the last several years, encroaching on school resources and traumatizing children. And all for what, they ask? They don't know how these tests improve student learning or how to prepare their kids for them.

The criticisms of standardized tests are certainly valid. In a perfect world, I would think that teachers would be able to gauge their kids' growth through their own tests of material that they are teaching from an agreed-upon curriculum. But it's not a perfect world. Data on student achievement is important—actually, essential—in spotting problem areas so they can be fixed. That was the whole point of No Child Left Behind.

In that spirit, there must be a happy medium. I don't like visiting my doctor either, but I also know that he's there to identify problems before they really get out of hand.

 

For our insiders: There will always be complaints about standardized testing, but where is the truth in the complaints arising from Washington D.C. and New York? Is testing really on the upswing? What is the most useful information to come from standardized tests? What is least useful? How can curricula be aligned with test content so the testing periods don't seem completely out of whack? Should principals or teachers know the content of the tests before they administer them?

(Note: This is a moderated discussion on education issues. Comments are approved on a case-by-case basis. If you want to become a regular contributor, contact me.)

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