Is a test score the best way to measure achievement?
Article asks if we're testing too much and draws a strong quote from my book, showing that I've been talking about this outrage for a long time.
By Robert D. Morrow
"Education ceases to be learning when the 3 R's are read, remember and regurgitate."
-- "Boston Public" character of student protester
Let's enter Sally George's third-grade classroom (not her real name), an experienced (21 years), creative teacher during perhaps the most critical events of the school year -- Standardized Testing time. Much anticipated by administrators and parents. Dreaded by classroom teachers. Mixed reviews by students.
Her room is inviting, colorful and challenging to her 24 third graders. However, "learning" is over and now "high-stakes testing" begins, part of the No Child Left Behind requirements. Over the school year, 52 hours are spent on various forms of testing at her school.
The stress level, especially among teachers, is palpable. Ms. George points out one active boy who never does well on tests. She says, "He's pretty squirrelly, doesn't always pay attention. I have to go so fast, he misses a great deal. I worry about him."
But the real preparation began a couple of weeks ago with "Endurance Packets." These are mock tests given to build up the kids' stamina so they will do well on the real thing. The third-graders are expected to sit still for an hour or two and concentrate on the 4-page long stories and answer dozens of comprehension questions. Ms. George's principal noted that, "It'll give them practice at sitting for long periods of time, focusing on reading."
Ms. George felt this prep time should come out of social studies or science, but never math, the other area tested! There seems to be no proof this approach increases test scores. However, this practice does raise the teachers' and, to a degree, kids' anxiety level.
Ms. George smiles, "The kids are great. They take everything in stride." When the kids were asked how they felt about the upcoming tests, many were upbeat with comments such as, "I think the tests are going to be easy for me because I pay attention." Or, tests are "fun cause I like being smart." Or, "It's exiting (sic) and (I'm) afraid." And, "I don't think I'll past (sic)." Many of her students said they were, "nervous, sad, mad, worried." When he thought about the tests, one student remarked, "I feel sick to my tummy."
Kids are the eternal optimists. After round one of testing, their comments were even more upbeat. Many felt "smart, intelligent, happy."
"I feel cool so far and I'm ready for the next test," one said. One third grade girl, whose family knows the importance of the tests, said, "I think I past (sic) so far cause my Mom, Dad, brother, sister wished me good luck and my dogs gave me 5 licks for good luck and there are 3 of them, a Pit bull and 2 Chihuahuas."
Ms. George's comments, however, are not as upbeat, knowing how the test results will be used.
"Although tempted to teach to the test to support a higher score," she said, "teachers realize this would be an ethical violation. Some teachers dread the published results where we'll be compared to other schools in the district or area."
Further, the testing becomes a morale factor for the teachers.
Teachers are usually summoned to a meeting with the principal to "review what could have been done better." Parents react to their child's achievement (or lack of) and may place all the responsibility on the teacher for their child's test results.
Often, the results are used to determine the "good" teachers from the "bad" ones, based solely on test scores. An indictment of our system of evaluating teachers
Other educators go even further in their criticism of these high-stakes tests. Professor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, once a believer in No Child Left Behind and now a harsh critic, said in a 2008 interview, "I am totally opposed to the status quo. The status quo was the one that was created 10 years ago by the No Child Left Behind legislation, and this has turned schools into testing factories. And teachers know this is wrong; educators know it's wrong."
Susan Ohanian, author of One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards, even more bluntly said, "I think it's time to ask the Standardistos: Where's the test for compassion? For honesty? For curiosity? For moral commitment? Until they can answer, let's tell them to shut up."
Are we testing too much? Are we measuring the right things? Do the results really give us a true measure of what a child knows, can do, and the type of student/person he is?
Or, are we creating a testing mentality that's brainwashing kids into thinking that the only measure of one's worth is how well he does on a standardized, multiple choice test?
Contact Robert D. Morrow, a professor emeritus at the University of the Pacific, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert D. Morrow
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES