Do Standardized Tests Tell the Whole Story?

When I found out that the Los Angeles Times was deciding to rank teachers based on the standardized test scores of their students, I was deeply troubled.

At least the public is willing to engage in conversations about our schools, but the comments I hear are truly disheartening.

The Los Angeles Times article can be found here.

The article is enlightening. It makes a strong case for using analytical data which school districts already have to reward good teachers and punish poor teachers.

The problem with the article, however, is that they aren’t asking the important questions.

The article constantly refers to teacher effectiveness. Certainly some teachers are more effective at increasing scores on standardized tests, but does that make them a better teacher? In other words, do these standardized test scores even matter? More importantly, why are we placing so much emphasis on standardized tests?

You have to ask yourself this question: are standardized tests important? Our federal government would undoubtedly answer with a profound Yes. And I, along with several other educators would answer with an angry No.

One could argue that the greatest change to our educational policy in the last ten years has been the impact of high stakes standardized tests on our schools. The Los Angeles Times article, without any discussion or clarification, links test results to teacher effectiveness. It has come past the point where teachers jobs are on the line based on the results of these tests. It has come to a point where our society is starting to accept that these tests are the truest indicator of a teacher’s performance.

And that is very very troubling.

You have to consider the students’ experience in the classroom. These tests are so important to the teacher’s livelihood that they are forced to teach children how to pass the test. “Teaching to the test” has become a phrase often used in the national discussion by educators who oppose the direction of our national policy on education.

Teachers who are so focused on increasing test scores spend hours upon hours with their students teaching them how to fill in bubbles to questions that have only one correct answer. These tests place no emphasis on the process or thinking that leads to how the student reaches the answer.

Instead of having opportunities to discover and read new literature, students are reading short excerpts that have no context or meaning other than the intended response. Instead of learning how to apply mathematical concepts in meaningful ways, students are drilling math problems for speed and accuracy. Instead of providing experiences that are fresh and new, students are seated quietly in desks answering one question after another and filling in bubbles.

Is this what we want? You have to ask this question: What is the goal of education? Is the goal to memorize random facts and formulas that lead to correct answers without understanding how these facts and formulas were derived? Is the goal to promote a culture of right and wrong answers without critically thinking about the process by which the answers were conceived?

If that’s what you want, you got it. That’s what we have right now.

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