Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Standardized Testing In Schools

Here in Indiana, another school year is about to start and already the State Superintendent of Education is talking about holding teachers accountable via standardized testing.  Standardize testing might have its place in education, but using it as an evaluation instrument is a waste to time and energy.  The tests do not address reasons for lack of achievement, i.e. attendance, class size, prior educational experiences, home life, etc.  Basically, the blame is always laid at the feet of the teachers.

Can you imagine a dentist being held accountable for all the cavities of a teenage patient, even though the kid doesn't brush regularly, refuses to floss and lives on a steady diet of sugar.  Of course not.  However, the government thinks all kids should learn at grade level regardless of the student's effort, attendance or support at home. When I taught, it was not unusual to have students start school three or four weeks late.  I've  had kids who missed over a hundred days of school in one year.

When I am King, no state legislature will mandate student testing until every member has taken the required test and had their results posted  in the local newspaper.  Now that's my idea of accountability.


  1. I'd elect you on that platform plank alone.

  2. Ditto Amanda. Also thanks for the dentist analogy. A lot of things have always bugged me about standardized testing (not the least of which is that I can't concentrate in a quiet room, I need sound). That metaphor, however, perfectly nails one angle of the problem with these beasts that I've never been able to articulate.

  3. But surely it's the responsibility of teachers to take the input (uneducated children and time) and then add value to produce skilled workers as the output?

    If they're not adding value, then what are we paying them for?


    Standardized testing as a way of tuning performance is in the management tradition of the assembly line. That business model could not be more wrong for how education actually works.

    Job training? Yes, that kind of professional evaluation might work for job training. But education is not job training.

    That's not to knock job training, by the way. Job training is valuable and necessary in its own right. But it's not the same as education.

    Job training gives you the key to a specific lock. Education should set you up to be able to make your own keys and locks as you need them. They're very different arts, and require different methodologies to be successful.

  4. Thank you! I hate standardized tests. I hate that they're so integral to education today that my second graders are doing daily math problems in the style of standardized testing to be prepared for that, instead of creating answers out of their own heads like they'll have to do in real life. (For the record, I'm the student teacher, not the mom, of the second graders- I'm actually your daughter's age.)

    Standardized tests measure how good a given student is at taking tests. They do not measure critical thinking, real-life skills, or how good the teacher is. They are inherently biased against English Learners and students of low socioeconomic status. Also, some students are just better test-takers than others- I've always been an excellent test-taker, while my sister has test anxiety and does poorly despite knowing the material.

    Accountability is important, no one wants bad teachers to slip by and reduce students' opportunities for learning. Standardized testing just isn't the way to do it.

  5. Standardized testing is awful if only for the fact that they place so much importance on it that it takes time away from actual learning. They'yre just teaching kids to take the test now.

    Semi-related (schools doing things I don't like), the elementary school I went to is requiring that all classes include a writing portion. They had to clean out a storage room and convert it to a classroom so the gym class would have somewhere to write some kind of daily diary thing. Just let the kids run around, it's elementary school!

  6. Granted there are a lot of problems with standardized tests. What alternative evaluation method works? How do we measure whether a school is working or not? Standardized tests are a response to the fact that schools aren't teaching well (or are not perceived to teach well). Charter schools, voucher programs, etc. are also largely response to problems in the public schools and the perception by many parents that they have no control over their child's education.

    My question back is if standardized tests aren't used, how do you evaluate schools? I'm bothered by your reasons for lack of achievement: "attendance, class size, prior educational experiences, home life, etc". Aren't there any factors relating to the current school or teacher which affect achievement? Going further, how would you identify the good and bad schools? How would you identify good and bad teachers (and how would you get rid of bad teachers, especially those with tenure)?

    These are the questions which which need to be answered. The goal of standardized tests (and all of the "conservative" agenda hated by most teachers) is to find a way to improve the public schools. Too many kids are getting out of high school (and even out of college) unable to effectively read and write.

    So, King Mike, how would you fix/improve the schools? I ask this seriously, since you've spent a lot of time in education.

  7. T. G. Wicklund - How to improve education, that is the question. Surely the subject of another post. But, here's a couple of ideas. Free, quality pre-school education at age 3. Invest heavy at the start, not at the end. Secondly, all testing will be diagnostic in nature. This way learning problems can be addressed with specific interventions. Thirdly, early intervention for severe reading disorders. Currently most teachers are not trained in how to deal with dyslexic students. These student need massive intervention programs, not once a week pull out programs. You would be amazed how large this group is.
    These are a few suggestions - more later on.

  8. I do like that Dentist analogy. :) thanks!

  9. And improving education starts with improving parents. Parents can't do their best when their lives are crap. Education is, like tax law, health care, social justice, nothing more than an entrance point into a dysfunctional society. No matter where you come from, you come to the conclusion that what we want and expect from society, the outcomes we get are not the ones we're trying for. And there are no simple answers to these systemic problems.

  10. We are falling so far behind in the world regarding education. I want to hear your educated point of view. We must do better, no matter what it takes. Ok King Michael, you have the floor. How can we become competitive?

  11. After re-reading the original post, I have a question for Mike. You say you had kids who missed the first 3-4 weeks of school, and other kids who missed over 100 days in one year. What did you do with those kids? Were they failed and made to repeat the grade/class, or were they passed on to the next grade?

  12. Thomas W - They failed - but they were also required to take the standardized test.