North Carolina’s public school student testing program fails to prioritize the kind of assessments that help children get the right tools for learning.
MEANINGFUL vs. MEANINGLESS TESTING
Schools have long tested children to identify academic challenges, allowing appropriate interventions to be put in place.
Well-designed assessments at critical developmental stages are proven to give beneficial feedback to teachers and families.
However, the tests that are most often used right now only measure certain skills, making them ill-suited to track the progress of children with different strengths and needs.
Further, the majority of tests don’t help teachers develop educational plans for their students. Instead, certain scores are used exclusively by state officials to rank schools and evaluate teacher performance.
WHEN THE STAKES ARE HIGH, CHILDREN LOSE
When school funding, salary, and career advancement are tied to student test scores, it’s inevitable that many teachers and administrators turn their focus to “TEACHING THE TEST”.
Students spend weeks practicing THE TEST and going over tips for taking THE TEST, leaving less time for exploring a larger variety of subjects or for developing different types of skills.
MORE TESTING = LESS LEARNING
In addition to the testing requirements set by the federal and state government, some districts add more assessments on top of that.
During kindergarten through second grade, students state-wide typically undergo periodic testing for literacy skills, which helps teachers match them to a particular reading level.
In third grade, students begin their journey in multiple choice-style standardized testing with beginning-of-grade (BOG) and end-of-grade (EOG) tests in mathematics and language arts. Students also take multiple choice “check-in” tests each quarter or semester, which are meant to predict performance on the EOG test. Students failing to meet the “check-in” standards during the year retest on an even more frequent schedule.
After third grade, students continue the periodic “check-in” tests as well as yearly EOG tests in math and language arts; in 5th grade a yearly science EOG test is added. The required testing schedule continues through middle school until students reach high school, where they take end-of-course (EOC) exams for a subset of subjects like math, English, and social studies, or for completion of technical courses (CTE).
HIGH STAKES = HIGH ANXIETY
The type of “HIGH STAKES” standardized testing that’s required by federal and state laws takes an enormous psychological toll on students.
Kindergarten students immediately enter the testing pipeline in their first year of school, along with the expectation to perform. The pressure to test well year after year can cause anxiety, not to mention negative attitudes towards school.
Even though teachers tell students that standardized tests don’t count toward a class grade, most young students are confused about testing and don’t really understand why they have to do it.
With all the fuss over practice tests and reviewing test material all year long, it’s only natural for students to assume standardized testing is a BIG DEAL – and every year children worry about FAILING these tests.
PARTICIPATION IS NOT OPTIONAL
Imagine taking a standardized test when you’re new to the English language. You might not even understand the instructions. No doubt you’d be very worried about the consequences of failing such a big exam.
This scene is played out all over North Carolina as children are forced to take tests that don’t make sense for their learning situation.
For some children, (e.g. English learners, or students with certain disabilities or learning differences) the standardized tests required by the state are beyond the bounds of their ability. Futile testing of this nature can be degrading and humiliating.
QUESTIONS ABOUT QUESTIONS
The nature and purpose of the many of the standardized tests have been called into question by educators and child development specialists.
There are unaddressed problems with test quality, including age-appropriate word usage, and introduction of cultural bias.
Another concern for young children in particular is testing that extends for long periods of time (3 or more hours), which is beyond what most experts would say elementary-aged students can handle at their stage of development.
SEE FOR YOURSELF.
Volunteer to proctor an exam at one of your district schools. Experience first-hand the agony of third graders struggling through three solid hours of testing with no break.
Testing practices that reward teachers and schools DO NOT increase student achievement.*
*National Research Council 2011. Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education. Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press. link
CONCLUSION: “TEACHING the TEST” DOES NOT improve overall student achievement.
Why should I care?
My kid has already graduated college and his days of filling out bubble sheets are long gone. Why is standardized testing such a big issue now?
Student testing has far-reaching implications for all North Carolinians, whether you have school-aged children or not.
- North Carolina taxpayers spend MILLIONS of $ on testing that has minimal or no value for our children – the funding should go toward assessments that give a better return on investment.
- Children are taking more standardized tests than ever before in the history of the public school system. Gathering data was originally supposed to show districts *how* to improve student outcome. Yet as testing has expanded over the last 25 years, most measures of student achievement indicate a decline in overall academic success and career readiness.
- With more student testing, teachers devote less time to teaching. In addition, the curriculum has significantly narrowed to focus on the material that appears on the standardized tests. “TEACHING THE TEST” stifles teacher creativity, their ability to reach individual students, and the appeal of teaching as a profession.
- North Carolina needs to have a competitive edge in terms of a high-quality educated workforce, making it an attractive hub for both research and commerce. Currently, only one-third of our elementary school children are proficient in mathematics and reading, a statistic that may not instill confidence in potential business interests. Testing reform plays a critical part in the larger picture of developing student skills that are relevant to the future of our workforce.
We are seeking efficient, equitable, informative, and evidence-based testing practices that will serve as appropriate benchmarks for student progress.
Through school testing reform we can:
- invest in the most appropriate and worthwhile assessments
- restore more instructional time to the classroom
- ensure the future success of our citizens by providing the right educational tools for each student.
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