Testing 1, 2- A Call For Stories

I have just returned from Florida, where I had four speaking engagements. The yin and yang of the spirit of the state struck me strongly. In the car on the way to an appearance at News 4 This Morning (WFOR) in Doral, we passed kids exiting the bus and trooping into their elementary school for a day of standardized testing. Yes, it’s FCAT week in Florida. An hour and change later, leaving the TV studio, we tuned in to Moody Radio, WRMB, one of the biggest Christian radio stations in Florida. The hosts of the morning show there were talking about the FCAT tests. “Is this the best we can do?” they were asking. “Certainly there must be better way to measure what students know,” they lamented. They talked about how the tests were so one dimensional. Florida uses FCAT scores to grade its schools in so onerous fashion that the legislature finally is considering amending the law. Everyone in Florida was talking about the FCATs. Except for the kids 15 minutes away on the beach. They were enjoying spring break.

I have been in fifteen cities in the last three weeks and in every one, someone has asked about the role of standardized testing in their child’s education. Not many people have had positive things to say. My position on this is clear. We should have accountability in schools, as we should in all areas where public money is at stake. And our children’s education should not be left to chance. We should have the best programs and the best teachers possible. Teachers should be paid commensurate with the significance of their job. Regrettably, high stakes testing has become both the means and the end in our schools. And the tests yield only one type of assessment of student progress. There certainly are better ways to measure progress, if we have the will to commit to them.

I want to know what you think. If you have a story about standardized testing, as a teacher, as a parent, as a student, share it as a comment below.

  1. Barbara Howard Reply

    All I want is a diagnostic test that will help me understand my child’s strengths and weaknesses and an approximate grade level equivalency. With the standardized testing we get in our state, the only information we get is whether or not a student knew enough to pass that grade. How is this helping the student, teachers, or parents? Also, we’re now testing math and reading each quarter for at least 1 1/2 hrs. each with a test that is to “predict” how well a student would do if taking the end of year test on that particular day knowing what they know on that day. Needless to say, students are tested on material that has not been taught. For a talented student this might not be a big deal, but can you imagine how it would feel sitting through this test when you’re already not doing well in that subject. For me, it would be like sitting through a test on quantum Physics. I could imagine a better use of my time. We are now also testing Art, Music, PE, Computer, and Science in addition to Writing. I can imagine that we lose an entire school day or day and a half per quarter to testing. YIKES! On top of that, once the end of the year tests are finished in the 3rd week of May, studnets are mentally checking out and they still have 3 weeks of school left!!! School should not be a prison sentence.

  2. Vince Marolla Reply

    Our family testing story is a perfect example of many of the shortcomings of this type of testing. We live in Wisconsin, and our daughter is gifted. When she took the “test” in eighth grade, she had a lot of questions and concerns about the process. Her concerns focused on a number of areas.
    First, she was concerned about how the school prepared students to take this test. The school used pre-tests and practice tests and did a large amount of teaching to the test, and not teaching of students in subject areas in the time leading up to test week.
    Second, she was concerned about some of her classmates and their test taking abilities. Within in that, was also the concern that one score meant so much to the school system. The testing did not take into account what students had been taught — only what the testing process felt should be taught. The testing did not take into account test anxiety on the part of students. It had no flexibility in learning styles. She was also concerned that the “final score” was to be used to determine high school placement rather than past academic performance in some subject areas.
    Third, she was also dismayed at the whole test taking process. Prior to the beginning of tests, the “rules” for testing days were given out to the students. During testing, students would be able to have food and drink available to them so they did not get hungry. Students were encouraged to get plenty of rest and eat a good breakfast prior to test taking. The school even provided some of the snacks for the students. Everything was done to make sure that the testing environment was as stress free as possible.
    We talked as a family about what to do, and our daughter came up with a unique way to protest – she decided, with the blessing of my wife and me, to score a zero on each of the areas of the test. She would then explain in the narrative essay section of the test why she did what she did. When she took the test, she even kept a sheet with what she determined were the correct answers.
    Fast forward to the last two weeks of the school year – we did not see the test results and heard nothing from the school until about 2 weeks before the end of the year. We got a letter asking us to come in for a conference to discuss what it would take for our daughter to graduate. Her test scores along with an F in physical education triggered the letter, we were told, according to state standards.
    When we met with the principal, it was very interesting. First of all, he had not talked with our daughter about her scores. He then launched into a long speech about why we were there, state rules and the like. We politely listened, and then told him we were aware of her scores, and that it was done on purpose. We asked him if he had talked to her about it. We also asked if he, or anyone at her school, had read the written essay. He told us that the written portion of the test was only seen by the person who “scored” it, and he further stated that the essays were not read for content – only grammar and spelling. He asked us to come back another day.
    When we returned, it was an amazing visit!!?!! The principal managed to verbalize and demonstrate almost everything that our daughter stated. He told us that she should not have protested in this way because it could impact funding for the school. He had actually taken the time to determine how far down her score pulled the average for the whole class. He had taken the time to figure out that if four or five others had done the same thing, the school would have moved into the “at risk” category. He told us that her score would impact her placement into high school classes, and we would need to work with her advisor to get her into the correct classes. Her scores would generate her being placed into the remedial classes – by the computer system. He even went so far as to contact the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to ask that her score be removed from scores of the school because of its impact on the school scores. He was told that they could not do this, and he was disappointed. He also told us that this would impact future testing for our daughter.
    This came to light when our daughter was getting ready to take the “test” this year. She received all of the “perks” of poor test takers. She was invited to meet with the guidance counselors to better prepare – they even offered her “raisin cookies” to encourage her to come and get prepped—and even, a free lunch with the guidance counselor.

  3. Kristin Browning-Mezel Reply

    Standardized testing comes from the paradigm of one-size fits all education and a machine view of the world where “you get what you measure”. Unfortunately neither of those paradigms are useful if we are committed to the growth, development and education of children. I believe a more effective measure is that of the childs progress against themselves- not against an arbitrary model of progression to the next grade or against a national average.
    In a small research project I’m beginning with children in a local school in my city I’m finding that children have a good sense of what they need to learn best and can measure how well they are learning. For example, one 6th grader describes her excitement about how much she is learning in math and how much she is enjoying the subject. The very next week she is in tears because she did not perform well on the standardized test. Which of these two measures are the most supportive of the childs growth and learning? And more importantly, which fosters the childs curiosity, self-confidence and interest in learning?

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