Most educators (and parents) would agree that standardized tests have taken over the school system. Teachers have been teaching to the test for years and have agreed that the art of teaching has been dramatically altered; even destroyed. There has been a recent movement in many states, however, to limit the current scope of standardized testing as a way to measure academic progress. Wonder what is prompting this change? Read on to find out and also gain some insight to the new alternatives being proposed to takes its place.
Not so long ago, tests were given to help place students in their classes or to determine which students needed additional help. The scores were never published in papers or served as criteria for judging the success of a school, student, or teacher. Curriculums used to be designed to meet the needs of all students. How things have changed!
If test scores are too low, everyone is accountable for making them go up. In fact, standardized testing has become a major political issue. While some kind of accountability is deemed necessary, the question is to what extent, and how are standardized tests acting as a true measure of achievement?
A big question must be pondered. Are tests measuring a student's intelligence and ability, or are they measuring students' test-taking abilities? Many argue that standardized tests are too subjective and are often confusing, biased, or unrealistic. Teachers often wonder how teaching to the test will help prepare their students for life in the outside world.
In fact, students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) who may perform well below their grade level expectations are required to test on grade level material. How is this helping our students?
Parents across the nation have overwhelmingly decided to opt their children out of the test. They feel that this action is a powerful and effective way to resist No Child Left Behind and the way tests are taking over the classroom. Certain organizations like FairTest and United Opt Out have information available and materials that can be used to refuse the tests and help end them for good. One of the most powerful theories they operate under is that your child's school will not lose money if you opt out of testing, contrary to popular belief.
In fact, recently in New York State, the head of the teacher's union endorsed a boycott of the test; as did the leader of the American Federation of Teachers. Randi Wingarten, who represents the nation's second largest teachers union, spoke out in support of parents who opt their children out of tests. This movement is getting so popular, many school district superintendents are taking action to discourage opt outs because they are afraid they will become noncompliant with the orders they have to follow from their state board of education.
In addition to angry parents, teachers, and students, rage against testing has reached the nation's capital and The Huffington Post has noted that lawmakers in Washington D.C. recently introduced bills allowing states to reduce testing. Education Week also reported that some Republican Senate aides are drafting a bill that would eliminate the federal mandate on standardized testing altogether!
So, if others feel that students should not be taking standardized tests to measure their academic performance, then what should they do to be held accountable?
For starters, a simpler approach could be taken. It's called Sampling. Students can take the same tests, just fewer of them. And, accountability can be at the district level by giving a sample group of students the test, rather than every student every year.
Stealth assessments are also being considered. The students use software that collects data on math and reading skills and assesses students' knowledge over a semester, year, or entire school career. It is able to offer teachers, parents, and administrators some insight as to which skills students know and do not know—and how quickly they learn them. A stealth assessment takes the big picture into consideration and many feel it's less stressful, time consuming, and is more cost effective.
Performance or portfolio-based assessments are also being discussed as a means to evaluate students' understanding and achievement. Individual students or groups of students come together to work on a presentation, report, paper, or put together a portfolio of work collected over time to demonstrate their knowledge and growth.
The end of testing may be near. Students, teachers, parents, and even law makers are beginning to recognize its negative effects and are beginning to voice their concerns to make a change-for good.
The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing, But You Don't Have To Be (PublicAffairs, 2015)