Salon.com has an interesting article on their front page today titled The failure of testing. It is a rather lengthy article discussing Standardized Testing in public schools. As anyone who watches the news knows, there is a growing grassroots movement against standardized testing in a number of states, and the beginning of a movement in a large number of other states. While trying to give both sides of the arguement, it is easy to tell that the author of the article agrees that standardized tests are Bad Things, and that those who are in these grassroot movements are the Good Guys.
And I agree, both with the author and the Good Guys. Standardized tests were never meant to be used to determine such things as school funding and student advancement. Achievement tests are meant to be used to give a general baseline for how students in a school are learning. For example, if math scores in a particular school are low, then that school’s administrators might want to take a look at ways to improve the teaching methods for their math teachers. These tests were never meant to determine whether or not the math teachers should keep their jobs, or whether the school should be punished (by withholding funds) for those low scores.
I live in a state where standardized tests use is getting out of control. The stories I am told from parents that I work with are scary. They talk about children who get physically ill because of the stress of having to take these tests. They talk about schools who basically suspend their normal curricula so that the school can “teach to the test.” They talk about frightened, disenfranchised students and frantic, worried teachers. They talk about school atmospheres that have gone from being positive to negative. It is both scary and sad, all at the same time.
I think that standardized tests have one place in schools: as a way of judging where the school needs to improve. If a school is low in all areas of testing, then the school needs more teachers and more funding to help improve. If a school is low in one or just a few areas of testing, then the school needs to make changes to that portion of their curricula. These tests should be done no more frequently than once every three years. It should be explained to children that nothing bad will happen to them if they do not perform well on these tests. Actually, it should be stressed to the children that these tests do not reflect on them at all.
And even then, the results of these tests need to be put into perspective. A low score school-wide does not mean that the school is failing; it simply means that the school can continue to improve. Which should be the goal of all schools, regardless of test results. These test results should be used as one of a number of tools to improve our education system.