15 April 2010

Thoughts on standardized testing

As my son prepares for his CRCT ( Criterion Referenced Competency Tests) I ponder the question of standardized testing. In general, I am opposed to it. Why? Because it really doesn’t measure what we want it to measure. In Jay’s case, the state wants to know if the first graders are learning what they need to be learning in order to proceed to second grade. In the case of Jay’s school, the state wants to know if a virtual academy leaves students as well prepared for grade advancement as a traditional brick-and-mortar school. However, there are problems with the method. Jay’s classroom is the kitchen table and his teachers are Mom and Dad. How does this prepare him for three days of testing, 3 hours per day, in a room full of strangers? One of the reasons we chose to do the virtual school from home was his difficulties in sitting still in a traditional classroom setting. How can his educational achievement be measured in that setting? My fear is that he will not do well on the CRCT – not because he is not smart enough or does not know enough – but because he will not cope well with the environmental change. We have done our best to prepare him, but how exactly am I to find a room full of strangers in which to place him for practice?
Moving on from the ludicrous idea of testing first graders, I contemplate the standardized testing woes of my students. As a tutor, I work with students who are preparing to take the ACT, the SAT, Georgia’s CRCTs, and Georgia’s EOCTs (End Of Course Test). While I think the EOCTs are perhaps the best of the bunch, do they really address the underlying issue – is the subject being taught to the state standard? When did we stop trusting our teachers’ ability to adequately test our students in the classroom environment? Was it when we stopped allowing failing grades? Is the answer to the issue of failing grades really a standardized test that every student must take? I don’t know. I know from my own work experience that many students who prepare for these standardized tests are not learning material from the curriculum for the sake of learning; they are instead learning material from a test-prep booklet in order to pass the test. They know just enough to pass the tests, because passing the tests has become the be-all, end-all.
My college-bound students fare no better. Preparing for the SAT and the ACT gives them ulcers and migraines – not to mention what it does to their parents! Too many students are convinced that a good score on these tests is the only way they will be admitted to college. Yes, many colleges do look at these scores as part of their admissions process, but the student’s application is more than the sum of his or her scores! Colleges consider all aspects of the individual – their grades, their class ranking, their extra-curricular activities, their community involvement, and yes, their test scores – in making that admission decision. Frankly, students who do wish to prepare for standardized tests would be better served spending 10 minutes per day reading and practicing math problems than spending 10 hours over a 5 week period being tutored twice per week. Just don’t tell that to the parents that hire me! ;-)
In the end, what can we, as parents and educators do? Not much. We prepare our kids to the best of our ability, and remind them that they are so much more than their score on an exam.

1 comment:

CassieWPerry said...

Thinking about this reminded me of a site I often refer panic-stricken parents to: fairtest.org
This organization maintains a list of colleges and universities that are SAT/ACT optional (or do not require them at all), and they have a plethora of other resources for those who wish to make an informed and meaningful stand against standardized testing in their local community.