Edspresso: Debate Over Standardized Testing

August 10, 2006 @ 3:18 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs

Edspresso has had an ongoing debate about standardized testing all week. Dana Rapp is not a fan of testing; Richard Phelps is. I’ve been following their discussion with great interest.

Says Dana Rapp:

"Before I moved to Vermont in 2002, I lived in Ohio where standardized
tests and national frameworks created environments where recess was
eliminated, teachers’ salaries were linked to test scores, children
became ill during testing, teachers’ job satisfaction waned, and,
ironically, less appeared to be learned."

And:

"Testing is a booming market where companies like McGraw-Hill and
Harcourt-Brace are reaping record profits with the sale of the
textbooks, tests, practice tests, and improvement kits.
Schooled-to-order children force-fed on scripted curriculum also
benefit big business. As testing proceeds to earlier grades, even
kindergarten, CEO’s and industrial “leaders” can rest even more assured
that future employees will not have the skills, knowledge,
dispositions, and collective consciousness to recognize and act to
change disparities of wealth, loss of jobs, lack of health care, and
corporate corruption in the organizations in which they work."

He avers that standardized testing has "dehumanized" schools and has led to an increase in "sales of anxiety, depression, and attention drugs for children."

I am none too keen on standardized tests myself. I think the need to teach to the test can suck the joy out of learning and shift a student’s experience from connecting to cramming. Not always, not across the board, but in many, many cases. And being good at taking tests doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at thinking. Or remembering, once the test is over.

Rapp’s point about testing becoming a lucrative business is one that had never occurred to me. Interesting to contemplate.

Phelps responds with a reminder that "the U.S. Constitution grants (by deference) responsibility for education to our country’s original founding entities, the states."

"State executives and legislators have the right, and the
responsibility, to determine education policy. By implementing
high-stakes testing programs, state officials are being responsive to
their constituents, who strongly favor such programs."

Really? I’m asking seriously. I’ve never seen data on that question, it occurs to me. Are most average joes really in favor of standardized testing? Is the increase in reliance on testing REALLY a response to what the constituency desires?

You, for example. Reading this blog. Are you an advocate of standardized testing? Not all of you are homeschoolers, and I’m curious to know what you think. (I can hazard a guess as to the opinion of most home educating parents, but even there I don’t presume to KNOW.)

"The fact is," says Phelps, "standardized testing programs are an expression of
democracy. If the public was strongly opposed to them, politicians
would be, too, regardless what corporate executives might want."

Hmm. I don’t know about that. I guess it depends on what "strongly opposed" means. I don’t think this is an issue that the public spends a lot of time worrying about, and unless the public starts marching in the streets ("No more tests!"), I don’t think politicians are going to pay too much attention to what the "public" thinks.

You can read the rest of the debate as it unfolds at Edspresso.


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Comments

11 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. I’m a homeschooler, and I don’t feel any overwhelming compulsion to test my kids, but state law requires it every few years. I have to agree with you, though: standardized tests are not on the general public’s list of major concerns. Most go with the flow and I bet very few politicians have ever even asked their constituents what they think. Have you ever seen the American President? There’s a line toward the end, when Michael J. Fox tells the president that the people are so thirsty for leadership they’ll crawl through the desert and when they realize it’s a mirage, they’ll drink the sand. The president says they don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty, but because they don’t know any better. I’m afraid that’s true. But we are already marching to the beat of a different drummer, and we are more likely to question all manner of things, I think.

  2. I’m a homeschooler, and I don’t feel any overwhelming compulsion to test my kids, but state law requires it every few years. I have to agree with you, though: standardized tests are not on the general public’s list of major concerns. Most go with the flow and I bet very few politicians have ever even asked their constituents what they think. Have you ever seen the American President? There’s a line toward the end, when Michael J. Fox tells the president that the people are so thirsty for leadership they’ll crawl through the desert and when they realize it’s a mirage, they’ll drink the sand. The president says they don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty, but because they don’t know any better. I’m afraid that’s true. But we are already marching to the beat of a different drummer, and we are more likely to question all manner of things, I think.

  3. I’m a teacher, trained to teach high school RE, English and History, which I did, for a number of years BC (Before Children) now making a “career” of being a casual relief (substitute) in a primary school. So I’ve taught K-12.

    Definitely NOT an advocate of standardised testing, which is creeping in further and further here for precisely the reason you express.

    “I think the need to teach to the test can suck the joy out of learning and shift a student’s experience from connecting to cramming. Not always, not across the board, but in many, many cases. And being good at taking tests doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at thinking. Or remembering, once the test is over”

    Education is so much more than can be or should be measured in those tests.

    I haven’t read the debate yet, no time this morning, but I will come back to it over the weekend.

    I have always felt the standardised tests are an attempt to force schools into a particular economic mode applicable to business and industry. A scary number of people (in government, administration, but among parent bodies as well) seem to think it would be far more convenient if education could be fit into some economic model applied to business or industry, with nice clear cut measures of production, profit and loss.

  4. I live in Texas and I will say that it is all about the testing here. Starting in 3rd grade, you cannot advance to the next grade unless you pass the state standardized test.

    I have a friend who has a son with attention difficulties. Sweet kid (not a discipline problem at all) and very, very smart. His parents have been told that unless they medicate him, he will not be able to pass the 3rd grade test and will not advance to 4th grade.

    Standardized testing is just one of the reasons my children do not attend public school.

  5. I am a homeschooler who used to be a public school teacher. I despise standardized testing for many, many reasons, most of which others have already mentioned. But I do think, unfortunately, many people are in favor of it. I think if they were not it would show, not necessarily with street marches, but in their voting patterns. Part of the problem is that no one has come up with an alternative yet that the masses can latch on to. They fear that without standardized testing there will be no way to be sure their kids are learning what they should be. How can we get past that fear?

  6. I’m a teacher, and a mother of three public schooled children. I’m not a fan of standardized tests, especially linking school funding to test scores. There is a huge pressure building up around test scores.

    I liked reading Alfie Kohn’s essays a few years ago. I had earlier fantasies about mailing my son’s high test scores to the state and opting him out at the same time. A vindictive little “Hah hah, you can’t have my kid’s 99th percentile!” This was a strategy suggested by Alfie Kohn.

    Unfortunately, my son “hit the wall” in 6th grade, and I’ve needed those test scores to help show others his strengths and weaknesses.

  7. I’m a big believer in the link between standardized testing and global warming.

    Not to mention the disturbing pandemic of gingivitis sweeping the nation’s gums.

  8. You know, I’m on the wall about testing. I’m a good tester. The way most standarized tests are written, I can score well on it. My daughter, however, is not. She freezes, has an inordinate amount of anxiety, thereby making herself sick. I mention that the test will be timed, and that anxiety tripples and she shuts down completly. And she’s very smart (parental pride says brilliant, but I’ll be realistic). A standardized test will not show her strengths or weaknesses. We would have to spend a great deal of time just teaching her HOW to take the test, resulting in less time to learn the “good” stuff.

    So, I’m against standardized tests.

    HOWEVER – I can understand why the Federal Government is linking test scores to funding. We have people yelling that schools are failing and need more money. There are other people yelling that the schools are failing, but the government is too big and is throwing good money after bad. We have people screaming all sorts of stuff about all sorts of other stuff. There is a lot of yelling going on, and everybody expects someone else to take care of the problem.

    When I was a grant writer, my non-profit had to show our foundation funders that we were using the grant funds wisely. We had to show improvement/success if we wanted to receive funds from them again.

    I think this is what is happening with the tests. The government sees the tests as a way of showing that the money that they are giving to schools is being used wisely. It’s trying to show good stewardship of it’s resources.

    I, personally, can not come up with another way for the government to make sure that money is spent well, and considering my views on the government, I really want to know that it’s using my tax dollars wisely. I thinking requiring standarized test scores from homeschoolers is just plain dumb, but I suppose that’s another post.

  9. As a kid who just finished heading through the public school system in the midst of the exploding importance of testing, here’s my two cents….

    I went to a pretty decent elementary school, and when I started there, testing wasn’t that big a deal. Yea, we heard about it occasionally, the teachers complained about it one or two weeks a year… but that was it. When I was in fifth grade, however, our scores exploded. It is my personal opinion that there was just a larger batch than normal of “smart kids” that year, rather than some huge innovation in teaching, but however it happened, we were suddenly being recognized as a Blue Ribbon School. Everyone went nuts. People were giving relatives’ addresses to get thier kids into my elementary school. The principal saw this as his ticket out of our school and on to bigger and better things, and pushed his teachers to drill on test questions DAILY to ensure that we would maintain our Blue-Ribbon status.

    I thought that was pathetic back then, but now the craziness about test scores seems all too common. The problem is that standardized testing IS necessary… but it is difficult to do it well, without too many negative side effects, and who wants to put in that kind of effort?

    I believe that most people don’t necessarily want standardized testing–most parents more than understand that there is more to thier precious children than how well they can fill in bubbles–but they do want what they think standardized testing gives them. They want the ability to say that thier child goes to a high-scoring school, or a blue ribbon school, or whatever. Or they want the ability to identify and switch to the “best” school. Parents want to believe that they are doing the best they can for thier child.

    Parents are also taxpayers who have been told over and over that schools are failing, and they want to see improvements. They support standardized testing with thier votes because they want some measure to use judge whether schools are doing well or not and whether schools are improving or not.

    A lot of parents I know (including my own) are really stuck between a rock and a hard place on the testing issue. They use scores from tests to judge school districts when moving to a new area. The scores of local schools affect the value of thier home. But they also hate to have thier kids spend an entire week of school on testing, and many of them worry about the effects of testing on thier kids.

    Do people want testing? I think they do… sort of.

  10. I am also torn between testing. I don’t like “teaching to the test” because the stuff isn’t remembered. I don’t agree with all the hype either or tying the money to the scores. Too many people want “proof” their kids are learning and that’s what the tests are supposed to do, but when the teachers spent weeks reviewing what’s on the test and kids even have online practice tests to take, how is that a true look at what is being learned? I don’t remember testing being a big deal when I was in school. Unfortunately I do have to test my son every 3 years according to state law, but I use an untimed test created for homeschoolers and no one is required to see the results but me.

  11. Hi. I don’t know the answer for sure, but if the public were against testing we would see the following:

    1. Higher private school enrollment.
    2. Higher private school rejection rates/private schools becoming more competitive.
    3. Higher private school tuition due to increased demand.
    4. A dramatic increase in homeschooling.
    5. A dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of homeschooling materials.
    6. An explosion of legislation attempting to force homeschoolers and private schoolers to test.

    Has any one seen any evidence of these things?