- Subject: Newsweek
- From: Juanita Doyon <Jedoyon@AOL.COM>
- Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2001 09:34:22 EDT
- Comments: To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
I was good and didn't steal the Newsweek from the Drs. office yesterday. I
bought one instead. Sorry, if I've lost my mind and forgot someone else
already posted this. In the Aug. 20th edition:
;>What Can a Flawed Test
Tell Us, Anyway?</A>
Many of my students won't even try to ace our state's mandated exams this
year. I can't say I blame them
By Hal Urban
THE TEST WASN'T ONE OF MINE. It was part of the agonizing annual ritual that
is mandated testing. Our school administration does an excellent job of
working out the logistics of giving the six-day, multisubject test, and our
teachers monitor it in a professional manner. We do everything we can to
convince our students that the test is important. “Our scores will appear in
the newspapers,” we tell them. “The public will judge us by what it sees,”
we add. And we plead with them to do the best they can. Many do, but too many
don't even try.
Students want to know two things when a teacher announces an assignment:
“Does it count?,” and if it does, “How much is it worth?”
Students want to know two things when a teacher announces an
assignment: “Does it count?,” and if it does, “How much is it worth?”
They've grown up in a society that's founded on an incentive-reward system.
They've been conditioned to ask, “What's in it for me?” In the case of state
testing, at least in California, the answer is nothing. Test scores do not
affect a student's grade and they have no bearing on graduation.
To make matters worse, there are significant problems with the exam
itself. I read over the test while my kids were taking it, and in a
discussion afterward many students confirmed my belief that it hadn't
measured the important things they'd learned in my class. There were
questions about matters so trivial I hadn't bothered to teach them, questions
that were poorly written, questions that had two correct answers with
instructions to choose one. Then there were the questions about facts so
obscure that I couldn't have answered them.
One of my students called the test unfair. When I asked her to
explain, she gave two reasons: “For one thing, we should only be tested on
what we're taught. For another, there's no way to prepare for this thing.”
While educators in some states are forced to follow rigid teaching “scripts”
that cover only tested material, I wasn't given any guidelines. A few weeks
before the exam, I asked the vice principal if I could obtain a list of
concepts and facts my students should be familiar with. She said no. The
reason? If I had the list I would “teach to the test.”
I guess I've been doing it wrong for the past 35 years. I've always
taught to the test. Let's say I'm teaching a unit on the Great Depression. I
give a pretest to find out what my students already know. Then I give them a
list of facts, terms, people and concepts they should be able to identify or
explain at the end of the unit. In other words, I let them know what they're
accountable for. No other system would be fair.
Another major flaw with the test is that it's based on the assumption
that “one size fits all.” Research in education theory suggests that
effective teachers are those who understand their students’ different needs
and learning styles. In our school there are hundreds of advanced-placement
students who are headed to the top colleges. There are also hundreds of
students who are still learning the English language. Why should they all
take the same test?
Because I'm active in the character-education movement (the push to
teach students positive behavior traits as well as academics), I attend
conferences and speak at schools in more than 20 states each year. It's the
same everywhere. Educators under scrutiny from the public feel enormous
pressure to get those test scores up. The days set aside for administering
mandated tests (along with the accompanying paperwork and schedule changes)
eat into valuable class time. And all this to give kids a poorly worded test
that doesn't count? It's no wonder they're exasperated.
The politicians, of course, love the testing. They can say they're
“holding schools accountable.” That has a nice ring to it, but it ignores a
basic truth: no one test can measure what teachers do 180 days a year. Why
not employ a more comprehensive method of evaluation—like sending in a panel
of educators each year to rate academic programs and student progress? After
all, teachers don't just help students learn facts, we help them learn to
problem-solve, communicate more effectively and increase their sensitivity
I think my colleagues and I do a pretty good job in all those areas.
It's too bad that a standardized test will never show it.
Urban lives in Redwood City, Calif.
© 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
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