July 13, 2011

Educating parents on high stakes testing

One problem, among many, with government-mandated, high stakes tests is that many parents simply don't understand the deleterious effect these tests have on education. A thoughtful discussion about tests erupted at John Merrow's blog post about cheating.

One commenter, "Washington DC Parent," suggests that her child's teachers lend no credence to the test, explaining that it's not a good measure of her child's ability. She is convinced, however, that the tests did "accurately measure the struggles my child has been having and that have been dismissed by her teachers."

This got me to thinking that teachers need to do a better job education parents on just how bad standardized tests are. Perhaps responding to blog posts like Merrow's and posting to our own blogs is a good start. Here is my response to Washington DC Parent:

Dear Washington DC Parent, I’ve been teaching for 18 years. Let me tell you that the test is the worst way to measure achievement, regardless of what’s happened with your child. I don’t know your child’s teachers, but I do know that judging your child on how many times he/she recognizes that A, B, C or D is the correct answer to some convoluted question is a short-sighted way to evaluate academic progress.
With all due respect, there’s no kind of test, whether you administered it or a school did, that is accurate at measuring achievement. There are far too many variables involved in learning that are not considered in tests written by people outside of the arena where the learning takes place. Students demonstrate learning over long periods of time in many ways — not in one sitting, coloring in bubbles.
Some of my students score “advanced” on the Ohio Achievement Assessment. Many are no more advanced than students who score “proficient.” Some students test well, while others freeze, panic or get distracted during a 150-minute assessment that they may see as meaningless. I’ve known many excellent students who fail our high stakes test, only to confess the next school year that they simply didn’t try. “I don’t see the point,” a student once told me.
While I don’t know your child’s teachers, I can guarantee you that good ones can tell you how much your child has or has not learned without ever putting a multiple-choice or short-answer test in front of him/her. What’s needed is an entire school year filled with multi-faceted projects that are built throughout the year and constant two-way narrative feedback between the student and the teacher, which allows many opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

I also advised this parent to share results-only learning methods wither her child's teacher. If we get parents spreading the word about progressive methods, maybe together we can end the lunacy of high stakes testing.