Here is a little piece that I wrote for a local newspaper--the Blue Stone Press (May 15, 2015)--in response to an article on parents opting out of testing for their children. It was published as a Guest Analyst Opinion.
It’s sad that so many parents are opting out of the current testing, as Jillian Nadiak noted in BSP (May 1, 2015). It’s also a big mistake.
Perhaps the major mistake is to assume that parents—simply by virtue of the fact that they are parents—are the best equipped to make educational decisions for children, even their own. In fact, the very reason we have schools and teachers and teacher education programs is because parents cannot effectively educate their children. Parents don’t assume they can diagnose and cure childhood illness and so we expect them to seek competent medical treatment from doctors and nurses. And there are laws that will penalize parents for not seeking competent medical care. But, with education everyone seems to see themselves as expert.
The second mistake is to assume that testing is bad. Frequent testing is clearly one of the best ways to assess student learning. Without frequent testing, it’s impossible to identify a student’s weaknesses and ultimately turn these into strengths. And isn’t that what education should be all about?
Frequent testing is also one of the best ways to assess teacher effectiveness. Some teachers and some teacher organizations, unfortunately, are objecting to this testing because it threatens to provide objective evaluation of their own performance, of their own teaching effectiveness. And much like testing is designed to promote student learning, it can also and should also function to promote teacher learning. From the results of testing, the teacher can see where he or she promoted effective learning and where improvement is in order.
The third mistake is to assume that taking tests is not a learning experience. It surely is. In taking tests students learn a multitude of skills—time management and reasoning strategies, among others—and, at least for the time of the test, are forced to think. And that’s a good thing.
The Bogus Arguments
The arguments that teacher and parent groups are raising are weak at best. One frequent argument is that the tests are bad—they don’t reflect the learning goals they should reflect. Creating tests is a difficult task and to improve tests, you need test-taking results. It’s that simple. You need to analyze tests and test scores to create better tests. No one claims the current tests are perfect but they are clearly necessary if we are ever to get to perfect tests.
Another argument is that testing takes a great deal of time and takes time away from the actual teaching. Testing actually takes a very small portion of the school semester’s time and is a form of learning. Learning to take tests is a skill that students will need throughout their professional lives. It’s ironic that we expect plumbers and electricians to have passed their respective tests, but we don’t want our own children and students to take corresponding tests.
Still another argument is that it stresses children out. Television commercials have parents begging for testing to stop oppressing their child; it’s incredible. First, it’s not the testing that creates the stress. If testing is approached as a helpful and student-friendly experience, it will be accepted as easily as a history discussion. The stress seems to be produced by administrators who put pressure on the teachers (so they look good), by teachers who put pressure on the students (so they look good), and by parents who put pressure on both teachers and students (so they look good). We need to think more of what’s good for the student. The aim of testing is not to determine who is doing well and who isn’t; rather, it’s an educational tool to help teachers teach more effectively. People universally enjoy crossword puzzles, jumbles, KenKen, and similar tests of verbal and mathematical skills, there is no reason the same can’t be true in the classroom.
As with any decision, there are consequences and, in this case, the consequences are not good.
First, opting children out of testing prevents teachers from discovering student weaknesses and their own weaknesses as well. Without the ability to identify weaknesses, we cannot adjust teaching strategies to achieve the results we all want.
Second, we prevent students from learning the essential skills of test taking and will leave certain students without test scores that are likely to prove significant in their further education and perhaps even in employment.
Third, those districts that do not have a sufficient number of students taking these standardized tests will be penalized by the state which may withhold certain funding. So, by opting out, parents will be denying their own children state funding. Does this make sense?
Joseph A. DeVito is Emeritus Professor of Communication, Hunter College, CUNY and—in the interest of full disclosure—is a Pearson author but has nothing to do with their testing division. He has lived in Accord for some 30 years.