I recently discovered a blog written by another young NYC male elementary teacher – we are a rare breed – and this week, “bronxteach” shared some of his concerns about the still controversial No Child Left Behind Act, particularly its perspective on standardized testing.
“bronxteach” writes: “Let’s start with testing. NAEP test scores have risen under NCLB and NYC test scores have risen under Mayor Bloomberg. Awesome news.” Yet, he continues by questioning what test scores actually tell us and whether they actually mean anything.
What’s the awesome news, then? Who cares if test scores have gone up? I know of no colleague who sees scores as an indicator of student ability or readiness for promotion. There are several logical qualms that consistently arise (not that education officials seem be the type that ever rely on logic).
One issue is the fact that test scores can be manipulated – in various ways, too. For one, year-to-year, test difficulty can change. The assessment of whether a test is easier or harder than the previous year’s is largely subjective, but the manipulation and scaling of scores can’t be passed as such. Last year, I’m told the range of raw scores was set in such a way that more students would show passing grades on the tests. This year, the prevailing thought is that, since the tests are later in the year, while the subjective difficulty of the tests might stay the same, the scales might be narrowed, thereby making it harder to achieve the almighty 3s and 4s.
What does this say about our students, then? How about nothing?
In this pursuit of the golden rings of ‘success’ that supposedly rest atop the wrongly glorified mountain of test preparedness, our poor, not knowing any better students are being shortchanged. They are forced to become mini machines with an ultimate goal each year of getting a 4 on the tests. It’s all they care about, so there’s no intrinsic motivation.
When schools exist solely to churn out robots that lose the experiences I hold so dear to my heart from my school days, there’s something very wrong. Too many students now come into the classroom, not with wide eyed, eager smiles, and a thirst for learning about their world, but rather with droopy eyed, perfunctory smiles and the knowledge that today will be another one spent doing rote work for the seeming sole purpose of their school career – the test.
Another significant factor in questioning the validity and integrity of test scores is the issue of promotion. If the test scores are supposed to measure a student’s abilities relative to grade level, why, pray tell, are students promoted when they get 1s and 2s? What’s the point of the test scores if they aren’t enforced? Am I making any sense? Because this testing codswallop sure isn’t.
Why put the kids through the drudgery and pressure of “doing well on the test”? They think that’s the be all, end all in education. Are these the learners we want to send into the world? When there’s no thirst for learning, there’s no desire to quench. There’s nothing to quench.
Obviously there needs to be some kind of standardization on which students are assessed. That’s the world in which we currently live. But that can’t be all. When our students are out in the world on their own, I highly doubt their test-taking skills won’t be what they need to succeed. Their analytical skills, creativity, ingenuity, and other higher-level thinking skills will carry them farther than anything else.
But we’re not cultivating these things, at least not with the same emphasis of test taking.
Consider these points a rambling rant brought on by the nonstop conversations around these issues that I have with my colleagues. Consider them a bunch of bosh. Consider them poorly written and confused. But whatever you do, consider them.