(Photo: Timlewisnm/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)This week begins the make-or-break, do-or-die standardized testing that will label your child a success or a failure. I urge you not to let your child take the state test.
The best test for students is the test made by their teacher. Teachers know what they taught; they test what the students were taught. They get instant feedback. They can find out immediately which students didn’t understand the lesson and need extra help. They can get instant feedback about their own success or lack of success if the students didn’t learn what they taught.
The standardized tests are useless for instant feedback. They have no diagnostic value. The test asks questions that may cover concepts that were never introduced in class. The test is multiple-choice, creating an unrealistic expectation that all questions have only one right answer. The tests may have errors, e.g., two right answers or no right answers or a confusing question. The test results are returned months after the test, meaning that the student now has a different teacher. The test scores give no breakdown of what the student did or did not understand, just a score.
These days, the purpose of the tests is to evaluate the teacher; most researchers agree that using student scores to evaluate teachers gives inaccurate and unable results. This year’s “effective” teacher may be next year’s “ineffective” teacher. “Value-added-measurement” has not proven to work anywhere. Most teachers don’t teach tested subjects and they are assigned rating based on the results of the school as a whole. A music teacher may be found “ineffective” based on the school’s math scores. This is madness.
Because the tests have no diagnostic value for students, they are worthless. If they can’t be used to help students or to improve instruction, they shouldn’t be used at all. We can learn all we need to know about states or cities by sampling (like NAEP, which compares states to states, and cities to cities). We can learn all we need to know about individual students by relying on teacher judgment and testing in specific grades, like 4 and 8.
The reason we have so much testing is because our policymakers don’t trust teachers. If we trusted teachers, we would let them teach and trust them to do what is right for their students. The more we distrust teachers, the less appealing is teaching as a job or a profession.
Another reason we test so much is the power of the testing corporations, which pay lobbyists in Washington and the states to push for more testing. This is big business.
Elite private schools rarely use standardized tests. They trust their teachers to evaluate their students’ progress.
We are trapped in a machine that is profitable for the few, but demoralizing to teachers and students.
Testing is not teaching. It steals time from instruction. Making it so important leads schools to narrow the curriculum, cutting funding for the arts, eliminating social workers and counselors, cutting recess and physical education. Making testing so important leads to states and districts gaming the system, to schools shedding low-scoring students, to cheating, to teaching to the test, and to other anti-educational actions.
How to stop the machine?
Don’t let your children take the test.
Deny the machine the data on which it feeds. There are corporations ready to mine your child’s data. Don’t let them have it.
I am reminded of the famous speech by Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement, during a protest rally at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964. He said:
There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
Assert your independence. Protect your child. Stop the machine.
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Her previous books and articles about American education include: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.