Is Testing Really Evil?

February 20, 2013

A recent Austin American Statesman story about Austin ISD student performance on STAAR tests said something surprising.

Here is a quote from the article:

“As they interpret the school-by-school results, Austin education officials are considering expanding the back-to-basics approach that has proved successful at Becker and Graham elementary schools. Graham, named a Blue Ribbon School last year, is a high-scoring campus where 95 percent of the students come from low-income families. Becker and Graham are known for very structured reading programs and close monitoring of test scores that allows early intervention for students who struggle. Graham students are tested every day.”

This seems incredibly odd since “testing” has recently been highly vilified.

Maybe we are seeing this whole thing wrong. Maybe it isn’t the test that is evil, but the pressure placed on kids by adults.  Maybe we ought to more closely examine who the opponents are and why.

It is highly unlikely that a third grader would be so upset about a test that it resulted in vomiting if they thought the TAKS test or STAAR test was just like taking a spelling test. Sadly, the adults in the system are so worried about performance that they put unnecessary pressure on innocent kids. Why?

One possible reason is teacher quality. If a school had the best and smartest teachers, they would TEACH the curriculum and challenge students to think for themselves. There would be no reason for wasting valuable instruction time practicing how to take a multiple choice test. If principals and superintendents had confidence in their teachers, schools would NOT spend 30 and 40 days a year testing.

The actual test only takes 2-4 days in elementary/middle school and 5 days in high school.

Yes, parents should be MAD. But they are directing their anger at the wrong thing.   The Texas Legislature and  the state education department created this test –But, t is the behavior of the superintendents and principals who, through their actions and behavior, are directing the “drill and kill” mentality that has our kids  anxious.

As noted above, testing is not evil – after all, the model schools in AISD test every day.  The difference is that when it comes to holding the grown-ups in public education accountable, then we see push back.

What if we actually gave school leaders the power to dismiss ineffective teachers? What if we paid great teachers what they were worth ($80k) instead of spending it on bureaucrats and buildings?

What if we stopped for a second and looked closer? Isn’t testing student performance a good thing? Don’t we want to know if a teacher is teaching students anything? Don’t we want to know if the school is good?

Taxpayer and parents deserve to know whether our tax dollars are putting put to good use and whether our education system is preparing kids for a bright future. Don’t be fooled into thinking we don’t need or deserve to know how students are learning math and reading. There may be no more important state function than education.

Maybe these “Mad Moms” are focused on the wrong thing. What if this was a sham and teachers, principals and superintendents want to hide their performance so that it can’t affect their pay or their jobs? (Which are funded with our tax dollars).

Other states use a variety of performance measures including test scores in teacher evaluations, principal evaluations, and in compensation decisions. This is what the Chicago teacher strike was all about. Rewarding excellent teachers and removing ineffective teachers.

We need to know what is really happening in the classroom. We need some type of test that tells us whether our kids are learning the rigorous curriculum. And then we need to hold our teachers, school leaders and schools accountable for their performance by rewarding effectiveness financially and improving failing schools by dismissing ineffective staff and restructuring.

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