Standardized tests have their place. Where that place is needs to be revisited and revised.
The tests are coming! The tests are coming! This is the battle cry this time of year at most schools. In just a few short months, students across New York State in grades three through eight will spend a few hours of two days taking a standardized test in English Language Arts and math that, for many, will have significant implications for the classes they are placed in and the opportunities afforded to them in the upcoming grade.
Assessments should be used for their intended purpose — as ONE measure with which to determine our students’ areas of strengths and weaknesses so that we are able to provide them with the academic instruction they need — nothing more; nothing less.
As an educator and advocate, my primary goal for my students is to support their self-actualization by providing a safe, comfortable, inspiring classroom environment where they can, through the reading/viewing/listening to of rigorous, culturally-relevant texts, respectfully and intelligently express their questions/ideas and explore, listen, and respond to the questions/ideas of others through strong reading, writing, and interpersonal skills. These, in my experience, are the same goals that the state standards have for our students.
However, the synergy between my goals for my students, the standards’ goals, and the standardized tests is not always there. There is a disconnect between standards and assessments that needs to be resolved. One way to reconcile this disconnection is to always view standardized tests as simply one lens that peers into students’ mastery of the standards.
Teacher-generated assessments and rubrics, hands-on interdisciplinary projects, homework, quizzes, and my observations of my students engaging in learning activities, are some of the measures I use to get a pulse on how well my students are learning. Standardized test results, particularly in the beginning of the school year, serve as good baseline scores with which to set goals for students. As the academic year progresses, summative assessments are given to students and those results are good measures for whether or not the goals set have been met and to see if there is new information given about what concepts the student is or isn’t grasping. These results help further inform curriculum mapping, text selection, lesson planning, and the implementation of the lessons.
These measures tell me way more about my students academic growth and development than standardized tests do.
And what about parents who opt their children out of tests? For four years I taught in an all-boys public school in Queens that serves an almost 100 percent African-American student body — a population of students that has been historically and systematically under-represented in the upper echelon of standardized test scores for many factors beyond anyone’s control. I’ve witnessed students have meltdowns due to test-taking anxiety. I understand that when parents opt their children out of state tests it is a guttural reaction intended to protect their children from what they perceive as harm. I get it; however, philosophically speaking, what do we teach our kids when we allow them to “opt-out” of situations along life’s way that they find uncomfortable? While I’m not a staunch proponent for the weight that standardized tests carry, I do believe that the cons of opting-out far outweigh any pros. The ramifications of opting-out have far-reaching implications that will prove detrimental to our students’ sense of perseverance, endurance, and tenacity — qualities that I think we all would agree are necessary for one’s overall success and satisfaction.
I’m aware of the tests, I make my students and their parent(s)/guardian(s) aware of them, but I don’t focus on them. That’s the key takeaway. The high-quality, thought-provoking instruction that I provide to my students daily is where I place my emphasis because that, not my students’ standardized test results, is what matters most.