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Survey: Students Are Tested Too Much

Ohanian Comment: I had intended to comment on the patently stupid Standardisto quotes offered up in this article, but then I told myself, "Why waste your time with patent stupidity and malevolence?"

Two-thirds of respondents to a new statewide poll favor reducing the number of standardized tests that public school students must take.

A slight majority, meanwhile, said they believe that such tests gauge teachers' test-preparation abilities rather than students' actual knowledge, according to the results of the Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll.

"That's a majority admitting that these tests don't do what they're supposed to do," said Keith Nicholls, director of the USA Polling Group, which conducted the survey from Feb. 16 through Feb. 19.

"We give these tests to hold schools accountable. So what do the schools do? They teach students how to take the test," Nicholls said. "Is that really holding schools accountable?"

Jo Ann Webb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the argument faulting educators for "teaching to the test" is invalid. "If you teach a child, then test a child on that information, then I don't understand the criticism," Webb said. "You're still teaching the child."

Eighty-two percent of those polled said students should continue to have to pass the Alabama High School Graduation Exam before they receive diplomas. The results suggest that people view the graduation exam as one of the most significant tests and that it should remain in place, Nicholls said.

"That does get back to the overall issue -- how well are students prepared?" Nicholls said. "What they are doing along the way is not as important as whether they are getting the substantive knowledge needed to graduate from high school."

Depending on their grade level, elementary and middle school students must take some or all of the following tests: Stanford Achievement Test, Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) test.

Being added to that lineup this year is the new Alabama Reading and Math Test, which will be given to third-, fifth- and seventh-graders.

Also, all Mobile County students have begun taking standardized quarterly exams, known as Criterion Referenced Tests, in each subject.

To graduate, high school students must pass all five portions of the graduation exam: math, language, reading, science and social studies. Special education students take the Alabama Alternate Assessment to get a diploma. College-bound students also take the ACT and/or SAT admissions exams.

"How else can we find out what our children know?" said Nancy Pierce, spokeswoman for the Mobile County Public School System. Pierce said testing allows teachers and schools to evaluate their progress in preparing students for the next grade level.

"If you don't know what subjects and verbs are, how can you go into more elaborate sentence construction? If you can't do addition, how can you go into multiplication and division?" Pierce said. "If students don't have certain concepts, they can't go on."

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that states administer tests in reading, language and math so that it can compare school performance and compare itself to other states.

To comply, Alabama uses student scores on the graduation exam and the Stanford to place schools on one of three general lists: clear, watch and priority. The priority schools are those needing intervention and improvement.

This fall, the state will use the Alabama Reading and Math Test, rather than the Stanford, to evaluate elementary and middle schools.

"Ever since there has been a schoolhouse, there has been a test," Webb said. "I don't know of any other way to test what students are learning."

In one of the first questions asked in the Register-USA poll, 55 percent of the respondents said extensive testing is necessary to hold teachers and schools accountable for the quality of education they provide. Later in the poll, after being told that students can take six to eight standardized tests yearly, 51 percent said students take too many tests.

Nicholls said the discrepancy is probably due to the fact that most people are unaware of the extent of standardized testing.

The majority of poll respondents ranked education in Alabama as being "only fair" or "poor" and said the state does not spend enough money on K-12 public schools.

The Register-USA poll included responses from 403 adult residents of Alabama. It has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

— Rena Havner
Mobile Register


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