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Standardized tests from a teacher’s point of view

test boxes

Originally posted on The Progressive by Peter Greene.

Straight Talk About Standardized Tests

The People in Charge know, even before the test is taken, that some students will be marked below basic. Imagine if I told my class of twenty-five students, “No matter how well you all do on this test, six of you will fail.” That’s the situation with the Big Standardized Test—no matter how well the students of your state do, some of them will fail.  

For the average civilian who doesn’t spend hours obsessing over the details of education reform, it may seem odd or even hypocritical for teachers to complain about big Common Core tests like the PARCC or SBAC or [Your State’s Name Here] Big Standardized Test. After all, we’ve been giving students standardized tests forever, and classroom teachers have been giving tests even longer than that.

But there are fundamental differences between the tests I give my students and the tests mandated by the federal government.

Who Scores The Test?

It’s a big, important test, so it’s probably scored by trained professionals, right?

No. I’ve learned that these tests are scored by seasonal, minimum wage workers in temporary test-scoring sweatshops. The emphasis is on speed—the kind of throughput that a factory might worry about.

Test companies are also searching for the “Even-Cheaper-Grail” of computer software that can score writing samples.

In my classroom, I score every test myself. I take whatever time is needed to dig in and understand what your child has done. More than that, I design my tests based on the best methods for determining if your student has acquired the knowledge and skill I tried to teach her; I have not designed it to be easily gradable by a person who doesn’t even know what the test is about.

Who Passes The Test?

Every test involves a line drawn between success and failure. But with the Common Core tests, that line is drawn only after the tests have been scored.

In my classroom, I draw those lines before students even take a test. I decide, ahead of time, that anyone who proves that they can do X, Y,  and Z passes. But tests like the PARCC and SBA do not set a passing score until after the test has been taken. So students will not be able to find out what they need to do until after they have taken a test on doing it. I can tell my students– before they even take the test– what they will need to do to get an A. With the Big Standardized Test, we have to wait and see what has been set as a passing score.

My tests are also designed for the possibility of every student’s success. If every student in my class masters the material, every student in my class will get an A. The Big Standardized Tests are designed for the certainty of failure. The People in Charge know, even before the test is taken, that some students will be marked below basic. Imagine if I told my class of twenty-five students, “No matter how well you all do on this test, six of you will fail.” That’s the situation with the Big Standardized Test—no matter how well the students of your state do, some of them will fail.

This after-the-fact level setting also means that the line can be drawn differently every year. Last year’s passing score could be this year’s failure, and your child’s success can depend on which cohort she’s part of.

What Tests Don’t Tell Us

All of this means that even if they were great tests (that’s another conversation), they would not give parents or policymakers a picture of how a school is doing. Before the test is taken, we’ve already decided that a bunch of students are failing, but we won’t know what “failing” even means until after the tests have been taken. We can look at the results all day and taxpayers will still not know whether they’re getting their money’s worth or not.

In my classroom, my tests are created with consistent, clearly communicated expectations, an opportunity for every single child to succeed, and the promise that the work will be a good measure of the content and skills being taught.  The test is also evaluated by a professional expert in the material. The Big Standardized Tests that have become part of federal education law do not meet any of those standards, and that’s why I oppose them.

Peter Greene is the Midwest Regional Progressive Education Fellow and editor of Curmudgucation. 

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This entry was posted on December 27, 2015 by in Testing and tagged .
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