Do Standardized Tests Add Up?


by LisaRose Blanchette

A New Visions Commentary paper published July 1998 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.


As a teacher preparing to enter my 11th year at the front of the classroom, I feel the need to comment about the weight placed on standardized test scores. It's not about improving the students. Instead, it is all about getting more money.

A standardized test has little to do with curriculum. Its authors work for a testing company, not any school district. The test is based on whatever textbook(s) the writers follow, regardless of the actual classroom usage of those texts. Herein lies the problem.

Textbooks are written by people in the education field. Since there is no national curriculum, those writers must necessarily broaden the scope of their books to encompass different state standards. A textbook series never covers everything required at any given grade level, and they always have extraneous information. This handicaps new teachers and those teachers who are neither creative nor resourceful. One can see the problems inherent in such a system.

In my school district, we have been trying to align our curriculum with the standards of our state, national standards, state essential skills (which are different from the state standards) and to the Stanford-9 standardized test. Hark! If we were to teach everything that is included in all those areas, we would have to extend the school day by two hours and the school year by 100 days. That, in my opinion, is actually not that bad of an idea.

Standardized tests measure only what a child is capable of doing on a particular day. Such a test does not necessarily indicate merit over the course of a school year. Any number of distractions could affect how a student scores on the day of the test: a student may not feel well, may have had a fight with someone or may not have eaten breakfast that morning. Someone who ignores the "Testing Do Not Enter" sign on the door could disrupt an entire class. Some children may become fed up with how much we test them and make pretty pictures while filling in the bubble sheets rather than actually reading and thinking. Most, though, do try hard.

Despite how hard students try, however, test scores have very little to do with what a child actually knows. Yes, they are sometimes an indicator of a child's learning disabilities or giftedness, but those qualities will show up in the classroom without the aid of testing. More sophisticated and specific tests can be administered to children who evidence those qualities to confirm any classroom suspicions.

So what is the value of standardized testing? Federal and state governments need to know where to send the money to fund programs. State governments need to know which teachers get incentive pay based on student achievement. That's the reason for all the testing. It's all about money.

We say that the money goes to the programs that work, but I have seen otherwise. I have seen test scores changed by a school that wanted certain programs to continue. I have heard of teachers who "help" the students during the test. As the system currently operates, it virtually promotes cheating by teachers and administrators in order to continue getting money or getting even more money. But, in the end, it is the children who are really cheated.

 

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(LisaRose Blanchette is a teacher and a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21.)


Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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