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4/22/21

Testing, Testing 123

 Testing, Testing 123


     Want to see a teacher curse ? Maybe not out loud, but I’m pretty sure they’ll internalize profane thoughts the moment you mention standardized tests. They resent the time spent on testing materials, testing procedures, testing review, testing pep rallies (yes they really are a thing) and the days missed out of actual teaching because of the preparation and administration of the test. They also resent the fact that they are required to assist with test administration AND are blamed when students don’t do well….or well enough. The USDOE has allowed testing companies to determine testing procedures, so during those days and weeks when tests are reviewed or actually given teachers are told not to actually teach or do anything that might possibly distract students from THE TEST. 

     Tests are nothing new to education. Teachers have been creating and administering their own tests since, well, since there were teachers.  They use tests to determine what students know or don’t know, and also to give them an idea of the effectiveness of whatever teaching techniques they use. Every teacher knows that every student learns in different ways at different times and each student responds effectively to some methods but not to others. That’s what differentiation is all about.  Want to see this in action? If you have two children, you already know it. For every Wally there is a Beaver, and for every Marsha there’s a Jan. Now take those personalities and add 23 or 24 more completely different entities in one class, mix in two or three students with learning disabilities  and a couple of kids with 504 plans and you begin to get an idea of just how difficult teaching really is even without the imposition of other things we think should be a teacher’s responsibility.

     So when did these tests become such a big deal to students, to teachers, to schools, to districts and to states?  Back in the 1950’s and 60’s (and even before) students would spend a few hours of one school day taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (or something like it) but there was little or no anxiety or commotion because the test results were not used to evaluate students, teachers, schools or states.  The results were used to - hold on to your hats - let teachers know which students might benefit from remedial instruction or review in specific academic areas. Teachers and Administrators could look at the results and actually use them to improve instructional practices. That all changed with NCLB in 2002, and education allowed people that had obviously never heard of the bell curve to decide that we would all work toward 100% proficiency for every child in every subject, and if there wasn’t sufficient progress toward that goal then a progressively stringent series of tortures would occur, including more and more tests. When this didn’t work, all the politicians seemed surprised and decided it must be the fault of bad teachers so they decided to do what politicians always do; throw more money at the problem and make it even more punitive with Race to the Top. This initiative was more costly, was still based primarily on student test scores and tried to slip in a national curriculum at the same time. If Lewis Carroll had written this script we all would have thought “this is pretty entertaining but I suspect a profound chemical imbalance affected the script design.”

     I have often wondered how politicians can say with a straight face that every student deserves an individualized, personal education and that we are going to measure that education with a test that’s the same for everybody.  They really must believe it, though, because testing companies are raking in over $1.7 BILLION per year from states for mandated standardized testing. Costs per student vary from state to state, but the money totals are significant. Georgia spends about $14 per student on testing per year, Hawaii spends $105 and DC $114. (You can figure that disparity out.) That means Georgia spends over $25 million on mandated standardized tests each year.  That’s not just $14 per student, it also means about $209 per teacher and about $10900 per school that could be used for something - anything - else.  Whether the money comes from state coffers or from the USDOE, it’s all from taxpayers and provides useless information that teachers cannot use in the classroom to improve instruction.

     Wait a minute - what? Of course they can use the information. Not so fast, my friend. Schools don’t receive standardized test scores until the fall of the following school year, too late for them to use because the students have moved on to another grade and other classes. The scores they get are nothing but autopsy reports that benefit only politicians. Teachers are not allowed to know the questions, discuss the questions or have input in designing the questions their students are to answer.  Besides that, students and teachers must sign a nondisclosure agreement before the tests are given, and are encouraged to report any student or teacher they overhear discussing the test. I’m not making this up. Just for good measure, you might want to find out what testing coordinators at each school are required to do.  If they don’t account for every test booklet, for every set of test questions for every student for every test administered and attest to a mandated chain of custody for those items, they can lose (and have lost) teaching certification. 

     Then there’s the 95% requirement.  That means 95% of every school’s student population must take the test.  No excuses.  Only 1% exceptions. So no matter about Special Education students or IEP’s or 504’s or learning disabilities or physical handicaps or student absenteeism or behavior disorders or family issues the test is administered.  And all scores count. Of course we all expect all scores to improve.  Every year. If they don’t then the problem can’t be with the test it has to be those bad teachers again.  Maybe we should beat them with the stick that had the carrot on it.

     So what do we get from all the taxpayer money the states and the USDOE people spend on testing each year? What we get is - take a deep breath - state and local tests given in an attempt to prepare students for federally mandated standardized tests. Preparing students for testing by giving more tests is like the farmer that wanted to increase the weight of his cows so he weighed them more often. 

     So surely these test scores are good for something, right? Like predicting success in college? You might think that, but you would be wrong.  The best predictor of student success across four years of college study is high school grade point average.  Say it with me; HIGH SCHOOL GRADE POINT AVERAGE (ERIC # ED502858). HSGPA, as an admissions criterion for colleges, also has less adverse consequences on disadvantaged and minority students than standardized tests.  You might want to read that one again. It seems that the single most consistent result of standardized tests is known as the zip code effect.  They have been designed since their inception to discriminate. These inherently biased  tests can accurately predict the socio-economic status of the family of the student test taker with uncanny results. In other words, not only are the tests undeniably prejudiced, they have never been accurate and reliable measures of student learning. Ever. Add to that the fact that we are the ONLY country that uses these abominations to judge educational quality. Wonder why? Because the tests were originally designed to replicate racial and economic inequality. They don’t just define the achievement gap, they create and serve to perpetuate that division.

     So why do we keep spending this money and giving these tests and subjecting students and teachers to needless pressure and stress? The answer seems to be simple. Testing companies want to continue making big money and they currently make more than enough to be able to contribute to political campaigns. The real purpose goes much deeper; testing is designed to give the appearance that public education is failing.  This allows politicians to divert more and more public funds to private education to pay for their kids and grandkids. Standardized testing, in its present form, is nothing more than educational malpractice on a national scale. 

     I once heard a quote from the CEO of a sandwich company about his business philosophy. “Everyone in this building has one job, and that’s to sell our sandwiches.  If you’re not doing that, you’d better be helping someone who is.” I think we should apply that philosophy to teaching and finally put our educational reform efforts toward productive educational policies.  What a novel concept - trusting teachers to help kids. That’s a reform from which we could all benefit. Especially students.

  


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