Standardized testing does not measure teacher’s worth
Would you agree with the following statements about education? The quality of a teacher, school, and district can be measured by objective standardized tests. The primary variable in a student’s success is his/her teacher’s skills. If you agree with these statements, you are mistaken. Based on 40 years of classroom teaching experience, standardized testing has enormous weaknesses.
Students are very different. I taught in a high school that had the highest number of students living in shelters in the state. It was located in the fourth poorest city in the nation. The average reading level was fourth grade. Every one of my students had a friend or family member who had been murdered. An overwhelming majority of students were not living with their two biological parents. Many had never met or knew the identity of their fathers. The language at home for most was not English. Comparing teachers of economically disadvantaged students with teachers of middle- and upper-middle class students having college-educated parents is wrong.
The Finland Paradox-International test comparisons show that Finnish students do the best. Except for this one international test, Finnish students do not take or prepare for standardized testing. The nation that does not use standardized testing has the best students. This means that other variables account for their success.
The role of prior years of education is not accounted for in mass testing. Students do not appear in a classroom like Venus on the half shell or Minerva from the head of Zeus. You cannot hold a teacher responsible for what happened during the four, eight or 12 prior years of a student’s education. Standardized testing has cultural biases in it. One year, I gave a state writing essay exam to Hispanic eighth graders. The essay question was: You are away at summer camp. Your parents give you an allowance. What will you spend it on? I remember the perplexed looks on their faces. They did not know what a summer camp was or what an allowance was. Most did not even live with “parents.” My wife suggested that a fairer question would have been: “Your mother’s boyfriend just raped your younger sister, what would you do?” If you asked me to write an essay on what meter sailboat I would race at Newport and why, I would fail that test.
Standardized testing encourages cheating as scandals in New York City and Atlanta revealed. Students informed me that smartphone use during A.P. exams is common. I knew of cases where teachers gave students answers during state exams. High-stakes testing increases use of practices which diminish validity of a test, even if teachers don’t consider these practices cheating: Using practice tests from the previous years, teaching techniques to maximize scores on a specific test, encouraging students to check answers during the exam, and narrowing focus of an exam to only questions that have been gone over during class time.
Proficiency levels decrease as “Common Core” standards are made easier to reach. Almost 75 percent of New Hampshire students were proficient on the NECAP tests. How hard could the standards be with such high levels of proficiency?
Standardized testing will lead to political bias and inaccurate answers once history is introduced to the “Common Core” curriculum. What history should be included and excluded is debatable. I was teaching in a city where they decided to give a standardized American history exam for all classes in all the high schools. I sadly amused myself by identifying poorly worded questions and multiple choice answers, provided by the district, that were inaccurate. They were a good percentage of the exam.
A worthwhile experiment
I claim that if you switched all the teachers in Jaffrey-Rindge with all the teachers in Bedford — which boasts the highest scores and household income levels in New Hampshire — for a year, it would make no difference in the students’ test scores. In fact, if you switched our teachers with those in Greenwich, Conn., with its highest household income in the nation at $610,000, it would not change test scores. That is because, generally, there is no such thing as a good or bad school or system. There are only students who try and students who don’t try. There are only parents and/or guardians who support, encourage, and demand effort and proper behavior.
Standardized tests do not measure effective teaching. Standardized test scores do not measure the following characteristics of an effective teacher: knowledge of child and adolescent behavior, which develops only with experience in the classroom; changes in a pupil’s behavior, motivation, and social skills caused by an individual teacher; creative lessons and unit designs; flexibility in instruction based on diverse students’ needs; and the ability to transfer a teacher’s own love of a subject to students.
Beware of research
Educational research has been around for a century or more, and it is not scientific or medical research. It only reflects specific situations, places and time periods. If it had the answers, we would have no educational problems now. Every decade it introduces a new panacea, which is effective until the next decade when replaced by “new research.” During World War I, the army gave I.Q. tests to recruits. Southern Negroes and Jews were classified as “idiots.” Of course, there was no proper educational system in the South for blacks and Jews were Yiddish and not English-speaking.
Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.