Unrealistic emphasis is placed on standardized test results and often it is difficult to remember that testing is not teaching what should count in education.
According to Teachers College at Columbia University, over 100 million standardized tests are administered to U.S. students each year. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) requires state math and reading standards and testing in grades three through eight and once during grades ten through twelve.
The goal is one hundred percent proficiency by 2014. In addition, science assessments must be given at least once during grades three through five, six through nine, and ten through twelve. Students with limited English proficiency must be tested in oral language, reading, and writing skills.
In theory, standardized testing makes sense but we must always keep in mind that generally speaking testing is not teaching what should count in education. Find out students’ and schools’ level of proficiency and correct weaknesses,and schools with low scores can receive federal aid and help in reaching the standards. Schools that do not make “adequate yearly progress” for two years in a row are named “schools in need of improvement.” The State Education Agency of their particular state can intervene. From there, if they fail to improve, “more serious corrective actions” may ensue. These can include closing the school altogether. In 2008, nearly 30,000 public schools failed to meet AYP.
In practice, though, teachers tend to have a very different view. In 2007, the Manchester College (Minnesota) Political Science Department conducted a survey of elementary teachers in the Chaska school district. Their findings confirm that testing is not teaching what should count in education:
• Sixty-five percent felt that identifying schools who fail to meet AYP will not lead to improvement. Sixty-five percent also felt that NCLB forces teachers to focus on students just below the passing score at other students’ expense.
• Ninety percent felt “unfair pressure” to improve scores.
• Only thirteen percent say the standards/sanctions improved teaching.
Are you teaching to the test even though you know that testing is not teaching? Many feel that they are spending classroom instruction time “drilling and killing” instead of focusing on higher level cognitive skills. Tests have also been proven to exhibit biases against children of lower socioeconomic status and minority groups.
Some states are choosing to cut down on the number of standardized tests given to students. This seems to be a product of the recession and tightening budgets as much as over-testing and realizing that testing is not teaching. Florida, for instance, will save $11.5 million by eliminating norm-referenced testing, which compares individual student performance against peers. NCLB requires criterion-referenced tests, which measure mastery of curricular objectives. Other states that have curtailed non-mandatory testing or are considering it include Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina) School Board Member Trent Merchant says, “As long as we’re confident that we’re maintaining standards, it’s a good thing to cut back on tests that don’t help us track student growth. With the plethora of tests that are out there, it’s a great temptation to emphasize the wrong things.”
Testing is not teaching what should count in education and it is time to carefully examine and separate the two.