About testing and how to make them meaningful

While I understand the current trend which correlates student’s learning to teacher’s ability to teach by standardized tests, I am obligated to enlighten those who care about how the implementation of this approach has failed us all miserably.   

There are a few problems with the current standardized testing which affects teacher’s tenure, schools’ stability, families and children.  The first problem is that those who create the tests are not the people who actually teach.  This results in tests that are unrelated to actual classroom teaching.  The second problem with the current standardized assessments is that its created by people who are not in the classroom and who do not understand student’s average, above average or below average abilities per their chronological age.  The result are questions that even teachers cannot understand.  Test questions language (especially mathematics tests) is convoluted at best, and unclear such that it actually tests understanding of the English language rather than mathematical concepts.  The first problem is that in many schools, there is no curriculum that teachers can use in order to teach children.  At best teachers are given with a list of indicators or standards which are generalized statements of what students should be able to do.  But, this material does not contain any related text book, worksheets, actual lesson plans or a set of manipulatives that were found to help students develop the desired conceptual understanding.  This state of disarray results in teachers needing to search for a variety of sources in order to builds their instructional units.  Are teachers trained for doing this? Perhaps, and perhaps not.   

If tests are to be an accurate measure for what teachers are teaching, they have to be designed according to the following methodology.  First, these tests must reflect the content taught in classrooms.  Second, the questions included on these tests must represent the type of questions that students are taught and have practiced over time.  For example, if a teacher taught for an entire quarter the algorithm of long division without once exposing students to word problems requiring long division, it is questionable if students will do well on a test that includes only word problem requiring long division.  The reason is that word problems require additional cognitive skills that are not included in the teaching of the long division algorithm.  As such, word problems are not appropriate unless instruction focused on such problems.    

Other problems with standardized tests are that many kids tested have not actually received the instruction necessary in order to do well on such tests.  How come you may ask? These are children whose socio-economic environment does not allow for stability which leads them to move often twice or even three times during one academic year from county to count or between states.  The other problem with standardized testing is that these were developed on homogeneous population which did not include English language learners.  Whether we like it or not, the growing number of children who enter elementary school with no exposure to English leads to their delayed mastering of not just English, but also the content of all other subject matter.  The third problem with the standardized testing is that the lack of resources prevents those who otherwise would have been diagnosed for having a variety of neurological or biological barriers, from receiving an exception for such testing.   And finally, the often lacking parental involvement and support of the education provided by schools, a lack of support of schools and schooling, leads students to have a poor attitude towards their own education. 

Not only teachers should not be accountable for perceptions that are instilled elsewhere and outside of the school.  They should not be punished when irrelevant testing results come in.  I thus leave you with an option to standardized testing, one that I know will not secure my high paying position in any testing publishing group.  Portfolio and growth-based assessment which will be structured on the existing curriculum standards and indicators, and that will reflect not only what teachers have taught, but also how well students have been increasingly developing a variety of cognitive skills.  And more on that, in an upcoming post.

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