Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Here's what standardized testing looks like in the real world

Standardized testing is often sold as a given.

Those who are for standardized testing sell it as the saviour for accountability. Yet there are many who do not like the tests but resign themselves to going along with the prevailing wind - unfortunately, the current wind blows in support of standardized testing.

I find it morally indefensible for one to become an accomplice to standardized testing when it victimizes and alienates the very people it claims to be serving.

On paper and in theory, someone might be able to rationalize how essential high stakes testing is - but like Winston Churchill once said, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

In this case, "looking at results" does not mean looking at the rows and columns of numbers on a spreadsheet - the "real results" can only be seen by actually visiting the schools and talking with the people who learn there everyday. 

Here is a brilliantly insightful post by an actual teacher about what standardized testing looks like in the real world. Here's an excerpt:

-Finally, the timing. They had only seventy minutes to finish the test. That's ten minutes per passage. This does not encourage the students to read slowly and carefully. One of my boys is a very slow reader, however is reading on grade level, and when given the appropriate amount of time, can be very successful. When I passed his desk about 45 minutes into it, he had barely finished half of the questions. He had also completely stopped working. I quietly encouraged him to move on. He looked at me and said, "No. I don't want to take this stupid test, and I'm not finishing it." I was powerless to help him because, well, we're not supposed to be talking during the test. Ooooh-kay.

If you take anything from this, please understand that standardized testing is not like the weather. It is not something that we must resign ourselves to. Standardized testing is a political movement that can and should be opposed.

We must move from apathy to action. 


  1. Joe,
    The sad truth is that in America standardized testing is THE way our schools are judged. I am an asst principal at an elementary school (second and third grades). Our school performance score is based on 90% how our 3rd graders perform on the iLEAP exam and 10% on attendance.

    Our state is also moving to "value-added" assessment where our teachers will be rated based on the academic growth of their students during the year.

    While I agree in theory with measuring academic growth, I do not agree with using one test to assess teacher effectiveness.

    Further, this plan is opening "pandora's box" in my opinion - the pressure that teachers will feel to have high scores could very well lead to much more unethical practice.

    You should read Seth Godin's little book, Tribes.

  2. I find Jason's post very disheartening. But, I also feel this is absolutlely why parents, teachers and administrators have to stand up and say "No" to standardized tests. The United States is saying themselves that they are not competing with other countries, but having a generation of good test takers with no actual critical thinking skills or creative ideas is not the way to get anywhere on a global, national or community scale!

  3. Wow Joe!

    I agree we can stop it. If every teacher withdrew their own children from the PATs imagine the results!

  4. Joe,
    Thank you so much for quoting me. I was surprised to find it!
    Learn...it would be nice if teacher could help to lead the fight against testing. Unfortunately our hands are tied. Can you imagine if I came to school one day, asked for an appointment with my principal and said, "I'm not teaching to this test any more. It is not beneficial to the learning of my students, and I view it as emotional and intellectual abuse. I also refuse to administer the test because it goes against everything I beleive as a professionl." I'd be fired. On the spot. No one would ever want to hire me. I have a family to feed, so I'm completely trapped. I'm not tenured, because in NYC the fudged the rules with that too. many teachers feel this way, and many are silenced by fear.

    All I can do is keep writing, keep pushing the truth. That's my way of fighting. I am the only teacher I know (in person) who exposes these truths. I know why many do not. Either they are too burnt out and have been drained of energy or they are absolutley terrified.

    The people who actually have the power to change our broken sytem? Parents. Administrators. Journalists.

  5. My six year old, 1st grader is going to do her third day in a row of standardized testing tomorrow. She asked me tonight why she has to take those tests. I, myself, am a teacher so I knew the answers... 'um, sweetie, so testing corporations can get rich...'

    No, no... I didn't have the heart to tell her the truth. So, I told her to do well for her teacher's sake. I said it was like giving the teacher a thank you at the end of each year. I thought it a pretty good answer, considering Florida just passed a bill into law holding teacher contracts yearly based on test scores.

    She didn't like my answer. Her response? "Why can't we just make her cookies instead."

    From the mouth of babes...

    Good job with the blog. Kudos.


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