Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Exercises in Futility

I really disagree with the amount of weight being put on standardized tests in schools these days in general but the new move to push that same focus into special education seems like a whole new level of crazy.  I do not believe testing as we are doing it now is helping school or teacher accountability in any way.  Nor is it improving education.  Standardized testing has become an industry in and of itself.  Like any industry it exists for one reason - to make money.  It is less about improving the education of our children than it is about selling the creation and scoring of exams and its driving teaching to be less about educating young people than about creating successful test takers.  I don’t know about you but I have not taken a single bubble test since I left school.  So how was 5 days of “test taking strategies” a productive use of time for my daughter?  That’s what her school spent on it, 5 whole days, and that does not include the 10 days of actual test taking and the lost time where she sat and watched movies because her teachers were helping to proctor other tests.  When I add it all up, about 20% of her education time this year was spent on testing. 

For my special needs son testing this past year was even worse.  Because the US Department of Education is starting to evaluate Special Ed Programs on test results the school was insistent he had to finish the exam no matter how long it took.  For my child that turned into 8 weeks’ worth of testing!!   My child needs more contact time with just about any learning subject to learn it.  Trying to keep up with the general education “pacing guide” which moves through topics way too fast as it is and subtracting 8 weeks’ worth of actual education time to accommodate testing on top of that is one sure way to guarantee my son will FAIL.  How is this meeting the objective of improving his education? 

The next step the government plans to add is a measure of graduation rates for Special Education students.  Graduation is an excellent goal.  I am certainly all for high school graduation for my child (and everyone else’s for that matter) but the measurement is going to be “ON-TIME” graduation.  So, push someone who learns more slowly than average to keep at the average pace, take out more time than average for non-educational activity (testing doesn't “teach”) and punish the school if the system you designed to fail produces failure.  Great! Wonderful! Let's do more of this!

How is anyone seeing this as a good idea?  Really?  Can someone please explain this to me?

How do we reverse this trend?  I really want to know.  There has to be a way to inject some logic into these decisions.  I’m just not seeing it.  And it’s not just beating up on my kids’ teachers or even the administrators at their schools.  I've looked at the “opt out” movement .  We may be taking that path, for my son at least.  In his case the testing is not just “doing no good” at improving education it is doing actual harm.  But is that really going to move the dial overall?  With all the talk about “response to intervention” why are we not measuring the testing intervention as well to see if it is having the desired effect?  How do we start that conversation?!?  Some schools are already reducing the role of testing.  So how do we make the sanity spread?  Does it even make sense to ask these questions when I don't have a +5 BILLION industry behind me? 


  1. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, standardized testing is a terrible way to evaluate teachers/what students have learned, except for all the other ones.

    A standardized test is a hoop that is a fixed number of feet above the ground, i.e. every kid is required to jump through the same hoop. That's the one and only thing it's got going for it -- and there is value in knowing how your kid is doing relative to other people's kids in your state. How do you know if the kid is making progress without some sort of common test?

    The teaching of test taking strategies has gone off the rails and the testing of special ed students using the "regular" test for their grade is basically bonkers. (I've a friend whose third grader is blind and is about 2 years old developmentally... being forced to take the third grade test, despite the fact that she can neither read nor write her own name).

  2. Jane - Thanks for commenting. I'm by no means against all testing, nor even against all standardized tests for the exact reasons you mention. We need some way to evaluate student (and teacher and school) progress. But it sound like we agree that what we are doing right now is just plain crazy. The big question for me is how do we dial that back to something more sensible?

    1. I'm not entirely sure you *can*. A standarized test works only if everybody jumps through the same proverbial hoop, regardless of ability.

  3. *sets students up for failure*
    "Don't fail."

    As someone who struggles with standardized tests, I feel like I am set up for failure. My highest scoring category is critical thinking, which is usually 95% or above. My math score hangs somewhere in the 30% range,