Meridian Star

November 24, 2013

The case against standardized tests

By Donia Evans / guest columnist
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Standardized testing has skyrocketed since the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. School reform is being pushed by politicians demanding "accountability" and "higher standards" (Common Core).

    This is a heavy handed approach by people who are not in the classroom and have little understanding of how children learn. This movement is turning into giant test prep centers and is replacing good teaching practices with "drill n' kill" rote learning.

    There is little time for hands-on activities, experiments, or innovative teaching.

    Teachers, students and parents have been shut out while politicians and test companies dictate what happens in our schools. This "raise the bar," "harder is better" is a movement that needs to be opposed.

    Here are some reasons why:

    • Low test scores are often due to social and economic factors over which the school has no control. There are many factors which have a powerful influence on test scores (number of parents living in the home, parents educational background, poverty rate in the school, and number of children with language barriers and special needs.). Children from homes with higher incomes attend quality preschool programs, own computers, travel, and attend cultural events. They pay for tutors and test prep courses which families in poverty cannot afford. It is simply inexcusable to expect the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, to be able to compete with those who have every advantage.

    • One of the problems of "high stakes testing" and "accountability" is that it does not take into consideration the responsibility of students and parents. Effort, motivation, attendance, homework, and classroom behavior are factors which affect performance as much as teachers' skills. Something is wrong with an "accountability" system that disregards the many factors that influence test scores.

    • To give the school a single letter grade from A to F based on the results of one test is absolutely unacceptable. Schools have many programs that are an important part of a child's education: sports, band, art, drama, chorus, clubs, vocational classes, field trips, academic teams to name a few.

    • This version of "accountability" assumes that reporting test scores to the public will shame schools into improving. It sends the message that low test scores are the result of lazy teachers and principals and creates low morale in the school and community.

    • Standardized tests only provide one indicator of student achievement. They provide a very limited range of knowledge and are more fact oriented. Are we measuring intelligence or test taking ability? Standardized testing does nothing toward preparing students for life outside the classroom. They do not measure initiative, work ethic, creativity or people skills.

    • Researchers have document, and a nine year study by the National Research Council has confirmed, the past decade's emphasis on testing has yielded very little progress.

    • Most professional groups condemn the practice of determining graduation on the results of a single test. Mandatory high school exit exams have pushed thousands of students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice system at a cost many times greater than a good education.

    • Standardized testing is very expensive. Mississippi spends millions on testing which could be better spent on classroom instruction.


    Editor's note: Donia Evans is a retired school teacher with more than 30 years experiencing teaching in local schools.