Why Testing Is A Vital Element of Educational Quality
The Testing “Industry” is growing ever larger and more centered on the USDOE Regents Exam (the Regents Test for English language arts & mathematics). It is no secret that the DOE’s Office of Research and the Office of the Curriculum Developer also coordinate the testing process. Making sense of what does and does not qualify as mandated testing is a conversation that is often quite complicated.
I wanted to tell you about a friend of mine who also worked at the State of Missouri. He is a US based GPO rep from ESI that conducts testing of both public and private schools. He asked if I would like to do an email interview about his industry. He also inquired about what, if anything, was done by the State of Missouri about standardized testing reform.
To be clear, my friend is a strong advocate for quality education. I would refer to his stance on standardized testing as a “Fossil Fuels Fuel”, as he holds true to his philosophy that “testing is bad for teachers and students and big bucks!”
When I ask him how standardized testing has changed the way he views schools in America, he answers:
“There was a time when the whole idea of standardized testing was like censorship, where schools were to “settle on one standard of assessment and then, beyond that, everybody is free”, and you could treat each child in the same manner. Until education is no longer reticent to administer standardized testing, there will always be a room for excellence. It is truly a “perfect case study of “the carrot AND the stick”. It isn’t really tests anymore, it is testing, with multiple approaches. Standards are used to compare teachers, students, methods, resources and positions. They also are used to help educators not get disheartened by providing children with an acceptable level of academic achievement. At the end of the day, quality education no longer depends on the impact of standardized testing – outcomes are what are important, and from there, students are assessed based on what they learn in the classroom. But, always in the background is the potential impact, the potential misuse, and the cost.”
What would accountability without standardized tests look like?
“I firmly believe that accountability is a matter of choice. I don’t believe that anyone should be held to standards that they do not want to be held to and cannot live up to. I also don’t believe in somebody deciding that I should be held to some standard that I’m not permitted to meet based on information that I know nothing about and was never passed through the appropriate channels. And, I certainly don’t believe that society can protect every child from everything. That is protectionism. For me, I believe that we are to be held accountable based on how we actually live up to the standards and expectations that we are forced to meet. How do we know if a child is being held to certain standards? By a simple survey. Whether we do or do not want to admit it. A fair question. Anything is fair when it is asked. Do you want to achieve the same academic standards as your peers? Yes or no. So many of the things that are most dependent on the testing aspect of standardized tests are perceptions. Each child is going to have a unique life experience that shapes the way they feel about things. I don’t believe we should base our policies on those perceptions.”
The ability to hold teachers and administrators accountable for how students perform on standardized tests is important to the future of our educational system, but, in my opinion, it is at the same time, a necessary evil. Why do I believe this?
“We are to be held accountable, because at the end of the day, no one wants to create an environment where people do not know their accountability. Even if you believe that every child deserves a chance at learning how to read and write, each child has unique challenges that must be managed. Is a better system and a better test? Absolutely! But, it would require a cultural shift. To be honest, if I were able to, I would do away with the testing aspect. It just wouldn’t be necessary. Tests alone are not necessary. The students do not need them to be held accountable for their level of performance. They need an incentive to be successful. And, let’s also make sure that teachers and schools are not solely subject to the measurement of student performance. Testing just needs to be assessed, handled and trained for as much as possible to ensure that there is no bias. The freedom provided is about setting expectations for all. The responsibility then is to ensure that students are actually hitting those expectations.”