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Pushback on Standardized Testing

After years of warning about the downside of standardized tests to no avail, critics are finally seeing signs that the tide may be turning. Three recent developments stand out in this regard.

In Texas, home of the accountability system that formed the basis for No Child Left Behind, lawmakers are about to cut back on testing ("A Standardized Testing Revolt," The American Prospect, Jan. 10). At present, Texas tests students in third, fifth and eighth grade. Fifth and eighth graders who fail are automatically held back. High school students are required to pass a series of class-specific tests in order to graduate. But much of this is likely to change because of a backlash from parents.

California is also considering reducing the number of standardized tests that students must take next year ("State schools chief urges cut in number of tests next year," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 8). The Supt. Of Public Instruction has proposed a plan that would drop testing for second graders in math and English next year, and most high school tests would also be dropped.

In Seattle, teachers at Garfield High School have refused to administer district-required tests known as Measures of Academic Progress ("Garfield High teachers won't give required test they call flawed," The Seattle Times, Jan. 11). District officials said they will determine on a case-by-case basis what action they will take with teachers who refuse. Teachers at the high school explained that they have no problem with testing overall. However, they claim that the MAP is flawed on a number of grounds.

Although what is taking place in Texas and California is bound to grab the media's attention because of their size, I maintain that what is going on in Seattle is more significant. I say that because the teachers are displaying tremendous courage at a time when their jobs are potentially on the line. Unless taxpayers in Seattle mount a demonstration in support of the teachers in question, they are on thin ice. Don't forget that Washington requires the administration of MAP. As a result, the teachers could be charged with insubordination. I don't know how strong the teachers union is in Seattle. But its silence so far is not encouraging.

Assessment is an indispensable part of the learning process. The debate is over the kind of assessment. When I taught English, I relied almost exclusively on essays, even though I knew their shortcomings, because written expression was one of the curriculum's principal objective ("Why Teachers Secretly Hate Grading Papers," The Atlantic, Jan. 2013). I envied my colleagues in science, for example, who largely used multiple choice tests. But no test is perfect. So many factors come into play. In the final analysis, therefore, the fairest way of assessment may still be the professional judgment of the teacher.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.
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