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Why we test

Testing begins tomorrow

Three weeks of stress

Adults with fingers wagging, voices shouting, eyes rolling

Kids unable to articulate their shame for not knowing

Insecure clicks on the screen

Going to bed early is never enough not to yawn through

disconnected text, numbers, diagrams

And for what?

                from Testing begins tomorrow, Marian Dingle, April 20, 2019 (Thanks @jverduin.) 


When Ms Dingle bemoans "testing" in her poetic post from which the excerpt above was taken, I believe she means standardized testing, taken on a computer or other digital device. "State testing" causes anxiety for students, (some) parents, teachers and especially administrators. Oh, and more than a few technology directors get a little tense when the testing does not go well due to technical difficulties.

Yet standardized testing continues to grow unchecked. Back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and I was in school, I remember taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills aka Iowa Test of Educational Development. Fill in the bubbles that appeared on two sides of a sheet of paper over the course of a couple days. Get the results in the spring. (My daughter always called the ITED test the Idiotic Test of Endless Dots.) I was good test taker and tended to score high so I gave ITBS/ITED little thought and probably not a lot of effort. Although I was not like some of my peers who used the dots to simply make enchanting patterns on the page. I have no idea how or if the results were used by teachers. I don't believe district assessment coordinators had been invented yet in the 50s and 60s.

My last school district had a testing calendar that spanned the year, with each student taking multiple tests, consuming an ever greater amount of instructional time. Lots of money was spent on the tests and even more on the district and building level staff administering the tests and analyzing the results. Add in the cost of plenty of tech time helping make sure the computers, Chromebooks and networks were up to snuff. I am unconvinced any child ever actually benefited from all this testing.

So why, if it seems nobody much likes standardized tests, do we continue using them. I see some reasons...

Economy. While it is costly to assess students using standardized test, it is more economical that hiring human beings to assess using competency-based tasks, skill demonstrations, and portfolios. Tough to run that project through the Scantron machine. Objective, summative test are fast. Authentic assessment is slow.

Objectivity. While good rubrics and checklists can bring a degree of objectivity and consistency to the evaluation of student performance, a good-old multiple guess or T/F test eliminates the chance that a human might bring something personal to the task of judging whether the student answers correctly. Too bad most of what can be measured in this fashion is easily Googled as well. 

Accountability. With the shear amount of money going into education, the public wants to know how well schools are doing and especially how well their child's school is doing compared to the school next district over. Politicians and real estate agents like hard numbers for their own purposes as well. The numbers may not mean anything, may not be used correctly, or can certainly be spun in many ways - but they are numbers and in numbers we trust. 

The problem education reformers have is the lack of trust the public has in other means of determining how a child or teacher or school or district or state or nation is doing in educating its youth. Until education has an alternative means of assessment that is economical, objective, and holds schools accountable, we will have standardized tests.

T or F?

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Reader Comments (4)

With AP testing, we parents are shelling out hundreds of dollars to have our kids take even more standardized tests. It’s how the game is played. It makes me cringe, but I’m relieved my kids are good test takers too and not prone to test anxiety. *Deep sigh*

April 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

At least with AP, some costs should be offset if college credit is earned. Or maybe I am misinformed.


April 25, 2019 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Oh, absolutely Family comes out ahead financially vs college tuition. It’s just layering on a few more standardized tests if your student wants to take the more rigorous classes.

April 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

As an AP Computer Science teacher, I am seeing more colleges do one of two things:
(1) Not accept AP classes as advanced placement - student still need to take the "full schedule" of college classes
(2) Only accept a 4 or a 5, even though a 3 is considered passing.

Personally I believe that many high school students take AP classes for the GPA bump (unless their school or district does not give them the grade bump).

The vast majority of my students want to take the APCS class, so that has always been a bonus. I often wonder how many students really want to take AP US History or BC Calculus (which I know there are many)...

April 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

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