How can we guarantee we are getting results without some standardized testing?

I’ve been in the distinct minority here regarding the efficacy of standardized testing.  I for one grew up with such tests as part of my life, the classic fill-in-the-bubble and never was more anxious about those than any other test.  As far back as elementary school we had once a year such tests which I believe were used for research purposes, but we were also told our own score.  In high school we had PSATs and SATs and in my case several AP exams.  We did cover material and practice skills likely to show up on the tests, but I never felt that we were being taught to the test.  I stand by previous comments I have made on this matter, but the truth is in an ideal world we would be so confident that things were going swimmingly in schools and tests would not be needed to verify that.  I would even go as far as wishing that core courses are so well done in high school that colleges would no longer find it necessary to require survey courses.  That would have the added advantage of making a Bachelor’s degree one year less expensive.  I’m confident my Catholic HS classmates could have passed an MCAS even out preparing for it.  My evidence is that I voluntarily took a sample MCAS, not only passed, but could identify which HS class I learned the material covered by a given question.

There are certain basics that everyone should know just so they won’t be idiots quite frankly and I get tired of seeing surveys, some comparative to other nations, that say that x% can’t do a simple calculation or y% can’t recall a well-known historical fact.  What I wonder though is if there is anything that can be done to improve natural learning, that is, knowledge gained just from being alive.  Here’s a simple fact: George Washington was the first President of the United States.  I assume that’s not news to anyone here, but I have no recollection of ever consciously learning that fact.  Obviously I was not born knowing that, but as far as my memory is concerned, I have “always known”.  So when I see surveys indicating that a certain percentage don’t know I want to scream, “You idiot!  How did you miss that memo.  Or take a more general skill like arithmetic.  High schoolers should be doing algebra and possibly calculus, but how often do we see teenagers struggle to make change without help?  It’s just subtraction for crying out loud!  Even when I substitute teaching which I generally do no higher than sixth grade I’m asked by a student if a calculator could be used.  No!  No math expected of a sixth grader requires a calculator though I do know some still don’t know their times tables, which makes me wonder how the heck they passed fourth grade math.  It just seems that there have to be some standards and a way to assess.  I have seen suggestions for portfolios etc, or we could make them like the NY Regents, but what I’d really like to see is a way give children the opportunity and interest to pursue broader learning.  After all, so much learning could and in my case did happen outside the classroom.


12 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Just out of curiosity, I'm not trying to make a point

    Where did you go to school K-12?

    • Public school K-8, Catholic college prep 9-12

      I substitute teach in the same public system I attended.

      • Suburban public school?

        Urban? Rural? Just curious, again.

        • Suburban...

          …though in some ways that’s an average description as the west side of town is dense and the east still has its share of farmland. My own neighborhood was pretty much the stereotype, two-story single-family homes on acre lots. The town and school system has both its plusses and minuses. There is unfortunately great disparity between the best and worst elementary school facilities making a mockery of separate but equal, though the good news is the worst one is finally closing at the end of this year. I attended the best of these myself and am grateful that was my lot, but don’t think other parts of town should have to settle for less. On the one hand I think if we could guarantee the education quality I got in my town we would be on the right track, though the reason I went to Catholic HS is because at the time the public high school was flirting with loss of accreditation.

  2. If you took the SAT...

    …what if you were told that if you did not get a 600 or above, you would not graduate? Or if the key factor for your teacher to keep his/her job was that 75% of the kids in the class had to get a 600 or more. Under those conditions, do you think your education experience would have been different?

    I agree with the question you ask in your headline, “How can we guarantee we are getting results without some standardized testing?” But that is different than what we have today. Testing, along with other factors, should be used to evaluate success and as comparison, but we use them as an absolute litmus test for graduation. That is why I called it a club in the last post. There are so many measures that are used to determine educational effectiveness, why do we place so much emphasis on just one of them? Commonsense suggests that the one measure that is sole criteria for graduation will be overemphasized to the determent of other educational criteria.

    • I really don't believe the experience would have been different.

      I guess I just don’t respond to pressure that way. I was going to take it one way or the other. I was going to do my best one way or the other. You either know the answers or you don’t and if I recall the SAT correctly the questions weren’t even up to grade level.

      • You seem to be in denial that Teaching to the test exists...

        …based on your personal experiences. Well, here is a story about wide spread cheating by SCHOOL OFFICIALS when testing is becomes “high stakes”.

        You have never addressed my basic point…when standardized tests no longer become part of an evaluation process and shifts to becoming the central factor, then the education process gets distorted. I understand that for YOU, that may not be the case. But can you put your experience aside and venture an opinion that encompasses the many variations that exist in school systems across the country?

        • I'm not at all in denial about what does happen.

          After all, I see it happen all the time as a substitute teacher. Just this past week I subbed in a 4th grade class which took almost the entire day on a practice long composition stemming from a provided writing prompt. What I AM saying is that could be done differently in a way that flows more seemlessly with what is already being covered. Cheating is inexcusable as much for teachers and administrators as it is for students and I have no sympathy for that.

  3. Hm

    First of all, George Washington may have been, depending on how you want to phrase is “first president of the United States”, but he has not the first head of government in the independent nation after the Revolutionary War.
    I’m not saying that people who get that wrong on surveys are particularly well-schooled in history, but I am saying that important things aren’t efficiently measured on tests.

    You ask about getting “some results”. Okay. If by “some results” you want proof that students can pass tests, then giving tests is a good way to do it. And if you think that passing tests is the goal of our education system, then keep doing what we’re doing. Given that these tests are not valid or reliable, though, why do we keep giving them.

    Why don’t people remember that Washington is the first president under the Constitution? Well, in Massachusetts that isn’t on the history MCAS. There is no history MCAS. So district cut it out of their curriculum — aside from private schools who aren’t held accountable by the state and can teach whatever they want. (I won’t even get into homeschooled children). So kids don’t really learn it. Or other states test this in eighth grade, with plenty of time for kids to forget as they get crammed with material for the 11th grade test.

    If you think cops should be hired/fired by the number of court convictions or doctors hired/fired by the lifespans of their patients, regardless of their lack of control over those outcomes of their particular clienteles, then this system works great. Otherwise…not so much.

    sabutai   @   Fri 22 Feb 12:16 AM
    • Yeah, yeah...

      …someone had to be a smart aleck about the first President designation!:) I think you know what I’m getting at. My point is we should not really have to test basics. I would not be as adamant about testing if I didn’t constantly see evidence that kids (or adults for that matter) don’t know basic stuff. I used that as an example of something I did not learn in school. Yes, it came up when we studied that period in history which I got in 7th grade and is currently taught in 5th, but in my case I wasn’t hearing that for the first time. Just because we say certain things must be covered doesn’t mean that schools should throw out anything not on the to-do list. Then if we want something else taught the only way to make sure it is is to include it on the test and that isn’t right either. Covering tested material should be considered a floor, not a ceiling and schools should get more creative rather than feeling constrained.

      • Yeah yeah

        My point isn’t being a smart aleck. My point is that when an educated person looks at the “basics”, it so often turns out they’re not basic. In other words, knowledge worth having is typically not answered by filling in a bubble.

        American schools “cover” test material. They don’t and can’t force children to learn it. So do we try to find ways to “make” schools force children to learn, or do we have a serious conversation about why they aren’t learning?

        sabutai   @   Fri 22 Feb 12:32 AM
        • Some of both

          Back to my original point of this diary, what if anything can we do to make sure that every American has a common frame of reference and knowledge base so that more involved concepts can be discussed intelligently by the general pubilc? I used George Washington because he is everywhere. There are monuments to him, countless streets and communities, our federal capital, one state, at least one mountain, etc. named after him. His likeness appears on the quarter and the dollar bill. (Same cannot be said about John Hanson.) Given all that it blows my mind that someone might still say, “George Who?” even they never took formal US history. My mantra comes from the state constitution, which you’ll notice is not so much utilitarian (ie learn the skills you need to get a job), but a more general philosophy about acquiring “wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue…”

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