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NCLB Outrages

Value Placed on Test Scores Harms Student

NOTE: Dale Jones is principal of Nimitz Elementary School in the Cupertino Union School District and has been an educator for 21 years.

Thank you, Dale Jones.

The silence of our professional organizations and unions on this topic of professional malpractice is damning. It is destroying the profession as well as harming the students.

by Dale Jones

Every year at this time I commit what I consider to be professional malpractice. As a school principal, I like to think that my bottom line is what's good for kids, but each year as oversee the annual ritual of STAR testing, I become further convinced that it's not only harmful to kids, but it's damaging to the institution of public education as well.

My school is an English Language Development center for our district. This year we have students from more than 35 countries who speak more than 28 languages. Most of these students, except those who speak Spanish, are forced to take the test in English even though they lack the vocabulary and comprehension to completely understand the directions, let alone the questions.

The length of the test adds to the frustration for many of our students, and not just the English language learners. This year STAR testing was a minimum of 360 minutes. We spread this out over several days, but do we really believe that testing fatigue doesn't affect the validity of the results? More important, what message does it send to our children when we devote this kind of time to a test?

Misplaced value

It's no surprise to me that many of my students feel that school is essentially over after STAR testing. We may say otherwise, but they can tell by the length of time devoted to it and by the entire ''testing milieu'' that this is the most important thing we do. It's the only time when the gardeners aren't allowed to use the mowers or blowers, and every possible interruption from fire drills to field trips is not allowed to infringe on testing time.

I know that I live and work in a community that has placed great value on the results of these tests. It's disappointing to me that a valley that prides itself on innovation and ingenuity has so easily been duped into believing that STAR scores are a valid indicator of the quality of our schools. Even the psychometricians who create multiple-choice tests admit they're a poor tool for evaluating what a student has learned. They're designed to rank students, and schools, based on a superficial measurement of a very limited range of knowledge and skills. Higher forms of knowledge such as evaluation and synthesis of information do not lend themselves to assessment through multiple-choice tests, neither do creativity, communication skills, physical abilities, and musical and artistic talent. This is why some critics of testing have rightly cautioned that if your child's school's test scores rise rapidly there may be more reason for alarm than anything else, as it's very likely that an overemphasis on STAR results has led to a narrowing of the curricula to that which is tested, in both content and quality.

Parents are often surprised when I tell them the results of STAR have little to no instructional value. The security surrounding the tests prohibits teachers from viewing their students' tests, so there is no opportunity for error analysis, or even to know which questions most of your students answered correctly and which ones they missed. Even though the tests are now aligned with the state standards, this advantage is offset by our inability to more deeply analyze students' tests at the site level. In educational jargon we call a test that guides future instruction a formative assessment, but there's nothing formative about STAR. We don't even receive the results until the following school year.

Time to speak out

As a principal in Cupertino, it's of course anathema for me to speak out against STAR testing. We take great pride in our test scores. But I also believe that it's precisely because of our elevated test scores that we have an obligation to speak out against them. Wouldn't it send a great message if one of the highest ranking districts in the state collectively admitted that our scores are really a reflection of the income and the educational level of our parents, and they really don't reflect the true quality of our schools?

It's time for teachers, administrators, and parents in ''high performing'' schools and districts to speak out about the fallacy and danger of using only test scores to evaluate our schools, to educate the community about the injustices of ranking schools and the harmful effects it has on ''low performing'' schools. It's time to end our complicity with a system of measuring students and schools that amounts to educational malpractice.

— Dale Jones
San Jose Mercury News


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