For years I’ve wished our state elected officials were required to take the same “exit” level standardized tests our students are coerced to take in public schools. I’ve not only wished our elected officials would take them: I’ve wanted those officials’ test results to be published and shared. The reason for this is simple: Much of what is measured on standardized tests today doesn’t matter much in the real world outside of schools, and it’s ridiculous to put so much stock in standardized assessments which can’t and don’t represent all the knowledge, skills, and dispositions citizens need today for “success.” Writing on the Washington Post’s education blog recently, Marion Brady recounted the response of a school board member (un-named in the article) who did exactly what I’ve wished for: He took his state’s 10th grade standardized tests, and then publicly shared the results. The following excerpt from his emailed response to Marion is chilling:
If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had. It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How? I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.
We need to move forward in “real school reform” in the United States, and a key step we need in all states is rejecting the high-stakes testing mentality and policies which have been normalized around the nation. This example highlighted by Marion Brady provides a specific, practical goal for parent organizations and others seeking to promote educational reform: Ask school board members and elected members of the state legislature to take high school “exit” level standardized tests, and then publish the results. In addition, highlight and publish the responses those adults have to the testing experience and their scores.
The only “winners” in our high stakes testing educational culture are the test makers and the politicians who use test scores to mislead voters into believing they’ve made a positive difference in the lives of children. This “norm” must change.
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