Saturday, August 11, 2007

Testing Public Schools


Testing Public Schools

In Connecticut and elsewhere, public school districts are in a panic over recently released or to be released mandated, standardized test scores of students in the elementary, middle and secondary school levels. Understandably so: nowadays, test scores mean more than just mere data. Since NCLB reared its ugly head and Secretary of No Education Maggie Spellings—who hasn’t taught a day in her life—was appointed as "the" NCLB Bush crony, test scores determine whether or not a school district is meeting what is now known as “yearly adequate progress.”

On the one hand, a “standard” test—rather than what is known as a “norm-referenced” test—can provide valuable information. With a standard test, students’ performances are, in fact, measured against fixed standards; with a norm-referenced test, students’ performances are measured against the group of students taking the test—student A performed better than 80% of those who took the test. In this instance, who knows whether or not student A or the 80% s/he performed better than met, exceeded or fell short of the standard. However, in the public education arena standards based tests can thus contribute to the effort of leveling the playing-field, so to speak; if every student in every district and from every socio-economic background is measured against the same test, theoretically, educators are holding everyone to the same…standard.

On the other hand, a “standard” test—as you probably know—offers only select information on student performance—certainly not the whole picture. Common sense tells us that students develop or don’t at different rates and in different situations; student A may or may not have had a nurturing home environment, capable, competent teachers, and a sharp skill set that contributed to his/her 80% performance. But there’s no way to know for sure. Put simply, there are just far too many variables that factor into how a student will or will not perform on a mandated, standardized test.

What’s the answer? I really don’t know. I do, though, think it’s ridiculous to have a "dominating" approach to improving the public education system in America by overly relying on mandated, standardized test results. Yes, these results can offer some information but not enough to fully understand a school, its teachers, and its students. On the other side of the coin, I don’t think that school districts and teachers ought to be allowed to freelance as much as they do and as much as they see fit—and please know: I’m not advocating for a lockstep, non-creative approach to teaching. It’s just that I have witnessed many colleagues over the years simply “teach” whatever they want whenever they want simply because it’s what “they want”—never mind a curriculum or standards. Let’s not get started on student needs. But some educators have suggested that standardized testing can have a trickle-down effect to reduce this no-standards freelancing.

Clearly, testing in public schools is a mess and it looks like it will be some time before we clean this mess to leave it behind.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen!!

JollyRoger said...

NCLB was another Chimpy scheme to transfer Federal contracts to his cronies, and little more.

But his brother just swears by it!

David said...

"Common sense tells us that students develop or don’t at different rates and in different situations; student A may or may not have had a nurturing home environment, capable, competent teachers, and a sharp skill set that contributed to his/her 80% performance"

Noninstructional variables are always at play. Why should that make any difference? Scragged has a good piece on how this nonsense is also affecting the business world now. Life will always be unfair. That doesn't mean our country's education and business standard should fall just so everyone feels good.

And you're right. No Child Left Behind WAS bad but only because Bush compromised on far too many things.