I have spent the past few days preparing to "go on-ramp" (as Amy told me), returning to work after a few months of maternity leave. One of the things I noticed immediately is how little time we have before we begin our Standards of Learning tests in reading, math, and science. Not surprisingly this got me thinking about preparation for them.
That train of thought followed a meandering path and I came to the conclusion that we, as a society, feel a need to quantify everything. Unfortunately, some things are not quantifiable. Facts we expect students to memorize are quantifiable. Understanding of some concepts is quantifiable, but not all. Some skills are quantifiable, but again, not all. However, the standardized tests that we administer on a grand scale every year only cover things that are quantifiable. In doing so, we do a terrible disservice to our students and teachers.
My issues with standardized tests are at least three-fold:
1. They only test things that are quantifiable. This is an issue in that it places priority on those things. This automatically makes other skills, concepts, etc. less important in our schools. We must focus on those things that are tested to the detriment of everything else.
2. Any standardized test is just a snapshot. It gives one brief picture of a student. If they are having a bad day for any reason; family issues, little sleep, not enough food, friendship problems, etc. they may not perform accurately.
3. The way we adminster standardized tests does not show a student's growth. We test students at the end of each year in ways that are completely removed from previous year's tests. We compare students to benchmarks without giving any consideration to where they began. This means that a student could make stupendous growth and still appear to be a failure under our current system.
For an interesting, amusing analogy on this issue, see A Year of Reading's post titled "No Dentist Left Behind".