Should state education tests really be so important?

Raising my own kids, I realized that what you scored on the state tests makes no difference whatsoever.

We are nine weeks away from the end of the school year and I have never seen so many stressed out kids! As our expectations grow for them, they feel the pressure and react. My Algebra Readiness classes are doing Algebra at the most basic level. It's simple stuff, but they know these lessons are the prelude of the song they'll be singing in math next year. They await Algebra, dreading it because so many have before them, and knowing that it is a requirement for a High School diploma. Questions about their competence, their worth are in their faces: "Will I make it? Will I pass? Will I graduate from High School?" So many worries!

I am pressured also. State testing hits my school in April and every day I am encouraged to prepare my students. I used to give a Power Point presentation about the importance of test scores and how they are the one measure that will shape your high school career. I don't do that anymore. Raising my own kids, I realized that what you scored on the state tests makes no difference whatsoever. Grades matter. Work ethic matters. Perseverance matters. Resilience matters.

My daughter and I were sitting at the table at home talking about her high school friends. She told me about a guy she had grown up with who had started drinking when he was younger, a freshman in high school. I asked her what he was doing now and she said he was still in college, and still drinking. She sounded like she didn't hold much hope for his future. I asked her what was wrong with him. She said she didn't know, couldn't quite figure it out, but four years after leaving high school, he was pretty much still the same. She asked me, "What makes a kid evolve away from that negative stuff we all thought was so cool in high school?"

I don't think it's a student's scores on the state test.

Simplistic, huh? State tests have their use. I don't think students should have to take them every year and I don't think so much emphasis should be placed on them. They are a moment in time, a one-shot deal, a day in the life. Every student approaches them differently. I've seen students who seriously approach the tests and those who have made cute patterns when bubbling answers.

So this March, when your kids come home from school overwhelmed with test prep activities, take it easy on them. Make sure they know you'll love them just as much regardless of how they score. Tell them to take their time, do their best and not to worry about it. And remember, it's those other lessons learned, whose only tests are quality of life, that matter most.

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Mark Paxson March 18, 2012 at 09:53 PM
M. ... I don't think anybody could argue rationally that all standardized tests should be eliminated. The problem is with the overwhelming nature of their existence in our public K-12 education system now. Is it really necessary for kids to have to take multiple standardized tests each and over year. One test for this program, another test for this purpose, and a third for a wholly different reason. And, as they get older, they start taking the PSAT, the ACT, the SAT, etc. The difference between those and the LSAT and MCAT is that those two tests are taken by adults choosing to pursue an advanced degree. All of the standardized tests in K-12 are forced on our kids, the parents, the teachers, and everybody else. They have become so prevalent and so critical to schools and teachers that they can't help but to teach to those tests. Yes, I want teachers teaching a core curriculum, but I also want them to have some freedom to teach it differently, to teach to different strengths and different ideas. I'm a huge believer in alternatives and trying to identify and teach to people's creative side. That doesn't happen much any more. One final reality -- some very smart and knowledgeable people are not good test-takers. Others are mediocre but good at tests. Standardized testing is not the panacea of measuring performance across the spectrum of people involved in our education system. And, ultimately, standardized tests
Rex Tugwell March 18, 2012 at 10:48 PM
CA Ed Code 60615. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=60001-61000&file=60604-60618 There is no penalty for exercising your right to prevent testing abuse.
Mark Paxson March 18, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Rex ... I appreciate the cite, but which assessments is it referring to? Does it include the assessments mandated by No Child Left Behind? Does it include the standardized tests required to graduate from high school? Does it include the other standardized tests kids take throughout their high school education for other purposes? Later, when I'm not in the middle of making dinner, I'll take a look at the cite.
Rex Tugwell March 19, 2012 at 12:34 AM
It bestows upon parents/legal guardians the right to excuse their child from all aspects of the STAR program. It does not apply to the CAHSEE. Although if a 10th grader cannot pass the CAHSEE there must be other issues. The yearly cost for administering and remediating for the CAHSEE is upwards of $50,000,000. That is not a typo. Over 80% of 10th graders pass the first time in English/Language Arts and in math the pass rate is about the same. Those that do not pass in the 10th grade continue to have difficulty, that is the primary cause of the cost of remediation. Each year the percentage of 10th graders passing on the first try increases. NCLB mandates fewer tests than California administrates, other than the CAHSEE, the testing regime predates the implementation of NCLB. Of particular interest is that NCLB does not mandate testing commence until 3rd grade. Legislative attempts to do away with California's 2nd grade test are met with rigorous opposition primarily from charter school proponents. Charter school operators are not necessarily in agreement with their political backers on that issue.
M.Legison March 19, 2012 at 04:48 AM
No argument there, Mark. Thanks for clarifying. Keyword from Lisa: Reasoning. I think that is one of the biggest deficits in public education today. I saw it in our boys too. They certainly had all the facts, but pose an alternate scenario with the same variables and they were clueless.


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