Thursday, April 19, 2007

More Thoughts on Standardized Testing

There is a great article at GreatSchools called "What's So Bad About Teaching to the Test?"

I have problems with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It's a federal law with requirements and sanctions, but no funding. And it heavily relies on standardized testing. Each state has its own standards and tests. Are these all of the same quality? No. Is NCLB pushing the states toward the same high level? I don't know, perhaps. Either way, NCLB puts another layer, the federal one, on all the state ones. It's more administration, and I don't see how it's improving the quality of education that I provide.

I had already read in American Educator about the study done by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) mentioned in the article above. Luckily, California, where I teach, is one of the eleven (11) states that they found where the state standardized tests are aligned to the state content standards. I quote:

Eleven states met our criteria for having both strong content standards and documenting in a transparent manner that their tests align to them in all NCLB-required grades and subjects.

They are: California, Indiana,* Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico,* New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. (*State isn’t yet testing in science at the high school level.)

The AFT commends these 11 states for meeting this challenge. We consider these states to be leading the pack in terms of standards, alignment, and transparency.

Of these 11 states, Tennessee stands out. In addition to having strong standards across the board and tests aligned to them, its standards documents clearly specify which standards will be tested, and its high school standards are written course by course.

So, I am "teaching to the test" because I'm teaching the state standards for my grade level, which is what my students are tested on. That's not true of teachers in all fifty states. And it's not necessarily the teacher's fault. It may be a problem at the state level.

However, they are only tested on English-Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. History/Social Science is left out. And push come to shove, when we get close to the standardized tests, history begins to fall by the wayside. I won't even mention the arts or health.

I previously mentioned that there is too much emphasis placed on tests. Here is a quote from the article above that addresses that directly:

Is There Too Much Emphasis on the Tests?
An Education Week survey in 2000 showed that 66% of teachers thought that state tests were forcing them to concentrate too much on what was tested, which meant other important subject matter was not covered. Subjects like social studies and the arts, which are not mandated for testing under NCLB, get less attention.

Many testing experts prefer performance-based assessments — those that require students to demonstrate critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. These tests typically require students to write open-ended answers to demonstrate writing skills or show how they came up with the answers to math problems. But the majority of state tests are of the multiple-choice variety. States shy away from performance-based tests because they tend to be expensive to score and have problems with reliability in scoring.

Though I have serious issues with standardized testing, I don't give them less than 100%. I am a professional. Whether I like it or not doesn't really enter into the equation. Standardized tests are here and will be for the forseeable future. For me to not prepare my students to the best of my ability to do well on those tests would be doing them a considerable disservice.

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