The end of standardized testing?

On Saturday, October 24th, the Obama administration made a potentially magnanimous move towards limiting standardized testing in schools. While stating that current standardized testing methods have “gone too far,” the administration urged Congress to reduce over-testing standards as it reauthorizes federal public education legislation.

The Obama administration has also recognized its own role in propagating the issue of over-testing in the wake of  the standards created under “No Child Left Behind” in the early 2000s. After acknowledging its prior mistakes, the administration is now working to make exams less cumbersome and more purposeful.

Students must study hard to achieve a high score on the SAT, but with the new design, will they know what to study?

More specifically, the President wants to cap standardized testing to prevent students from spending more than 2% of their class time on national assessments. The administration still believes that yearly tests are necessary to ensure students are academically on track; however it feels that moderation is key.

Many North Springs students and faculty agree with the Obama administration that standardized testing has been pushed too far and must be reduced in schools.

North Springs Head Student Ambassador Alice Ann Lever argues that standardized tests affect the way teachers deliver the curriculum and force students to memorize facts rather than understand the material.

National Honor Society President Mandy Peskin also asserts that “standardized testing makes kids only care about what’s on the test instead of receiving a well-rounded education.”

Peskin, a senior, also maintains that the results of standardized tests “don’t show what students actually know — only what the state wants [students] to know.”

Adversely, Nina Qin, a senior who is founder of the North Springs 800 Club’s free SAT tutoring service, has a different perspective. “Standardized testing is a necessary measurement of students’ understanding,” Qin says. “With such a tremendous amount of variation in high school curriculums, using GPA as a method of comparison is a terrible idea.”

Overall, Qin agrees with current testing practices and believes that “the amount of emphasis put on standardized testing is appropriate.”

North Springs testing coordinator Kira Willis also finds standardized testing to be necessary in education. “I believe that [standardized testing] has its place in schools. It is a solid way to assess student growth from grade to grade, and it’s a way for educators to disaggregate their student scores and find trends in teaching and learning.”

However, Willis also recognizes that the current system of administering these tests has some flaws. In the 2014-2015 school year, there were eighteen standardized testing periods, averaging one test per week for the eighteen weeks of school. Instead of having many varying tests for each subject throughout the year, Willis contends that, “there should be a way to align tests for students so that they take one a year that encompasses all core subjects.”

Advanced Placement World History and Economics teacher Freddie Benschine believes that standardized testing should be limited in schools. Benschine finds milestone testing especially unnecessary and counterproductive. “It’s not just that there are too many tests, but they’re also not being done well,” Benschine remarks.

All that testing

Milestone tests are given to students in the beginning and end of a course to track student improvement. Many agree that these milestone tests are poorly assembled. “A fifteen-question milestone test is not representative of a one-year course,” says Benschine.

Not only are these tests excessive, but their effectiveness is completely contingent on whether students actually put effort into the assessment. “Usually kids know most [standardized tests] don’t count, so they don’t try,” Benschine adds.

Language Arts teacher and TAG coordinator Tamra Jenkins believes that standardized testing is detrimental to both students and teachers. She contends that too much school time is spent taking standardized tests rather than learning class curriculum. “Standardized tests are pointless and destructive to student productivity,” asserts Jenkins.

Additionally, Jenkins worries that standardized testing “fails to test intelligence,” and therefore does not accurately reflect students’ abilities. She suggested that when students receive poor scores on standardized tests — including those whose academic classroom performance is exceptional — it can be detrimental to their self-esteem.

Jenkins also feels that the tests serve as what she calls a “catalyst for professional dishonesty,” referring to the constant scandals exposing teachers of altering students’ test answers to boost scores. This form of professional dishonesty became exposed nationwide when thirty-five Atlanta Public School officials were indicted for widespread standardized test cheating, eleven officials convicted of racketeering and corruption. However, the APS scandal is not an isolated incident.

Across the country, teachers and schools feel pressure to improve standardized test scores or risk serious consequences, usually in the form of federal funding or school restructuring. In many states, standardized test scores even determine individual teacher’s salaries, promotions, tenure, or dismissals. Standardized tests exert more pressure on students and teachers by implementing rewards and punishments. In addition, it has also placed heightened scrutiny on the process of implementing tests and test security to prevent student cheating and other incidents that can impede testing accuracy — the latest example being the collection of student cell phones and electronic devices by teachers and staff and electronic prior to the administration of the PSAT in October.

Although we do not yet know whether any legislation limiting standardized tests will be implemented, the issue of testing at North Springs will probably remain the same for now. Our school, “is mandated to administer exams in compliance to all state and local mandated tests”, according to Ms. Willis. However, one thing is quite clear: most North Springs Spartans do not like standardized tests.

 

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