Opinion Piece: Standardized Testing

Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high – stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.Senator Paul Wellstone (1944 to 2002)

Standard is defined as “an object that is regarded as the usual or most common size or form of its kind; something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison and approval model”, as stated by Dictionary.com . I question a few things in these definitions. What is usual or most common? And who is the authority or the general consent? The U.S. is a country made of people from all over the world with different languages and cultures, so it boggles my mind to see how that could be “standardized”.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about standardized testing and rightly so. I question it. The purpose behind these tests has been to “place” people in certain programs. Now they are being used to rate teachers. There are several things wrong with these uses. One is that everyone has bad days. If a student has a bad day, these results cannot be accurate. Secondly, it also depends on the community and where it is located, as we are not standard as human beings, and people have different languages and backgrounds. Most importantly, teachers are professionals. I do not need standardized tests to tell me how my children are performing. As a parent, I should know whether or not my children are caught up in being the kind of student I want them to be. If it's not happening for them then I need to be able to say,
“What's going on?” And also, “How can I change it?”

We send our children off to school with certain expectations. My expectation is that teachers will present my children with information that helps their minds' grow, that allows them to become strong readers, critical thinkers, strong writers and mathematicians to a certain level. I want my children to know how to look at information and be able to decide for themselves whether or not it is accurate, appropriate or needs more details. I want them to know how to find the accurate details and process them. And I want them to know how to disseminate the accuracy of it and put a plan into action to either accept it or disagree with it; and if the issue needs to change, they need to know how to go about doing so.

These skills cannot be taught with standardized tests looming, ” . . . people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy-handed, top down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country” (Alphie Khon). Teachers are spending more and more time on “drill and kill” in the classroom. Teachers need to be given the space to help kids learn the above behaviors. Teaching is not about read this passage and answer these questions. Teaching is about showing students skills that allow them to become better people. So they can ask themselves, “How am I a productive citizen?” and “How do I pay attention to things I see and hear?”

It concerns me that our students are sitting in chairs or completing packets, learning how to take a test. That is not life. How often in life will they take a test? The answer is, hardly ever. I don't take tests in my life. The only tests I've had to take as an adult are my driver’s license test and a test to become a teacher because that's what I wanted to do. This is why I opt my children out of standardized testing. I believe that this Opt Out movement is what caused the most recent legislation regarding federal education, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESS). This legislation states, funding will go to students who need it most, prohibits the federal government from mandating teacher evaluations, and stops the federal government from prescribing high stakes consequences like school closures and conversions, among other things (AFT.org ). We as a society need to have faith in our teachers (and our parenting). Our teachers know what they're doing. They're professionals. They've been through years of schooling. They've practiced years and years” practice makes permanent” (Eric Jensen).

I look forward to the changes ahead with ESS. I'm hopeful that parents will continue to opt out their children from standardized testing. I see more colleges accepting students on portfolios and interviews (US News and World Report ), rather than test scores. I see parents, students and teachers using their voices to make change. More information can be found at Opt Out Minnesota, United Opt Out National, Fairtest.org , and also Sarah Lahm who writes for The Progressive and The Twin Cities Daily Planet among other publications.

-Michelle Ockman

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