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.