Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Promise, I Really Don't Like Testing

A couple of days ago Diane Ravitch wrote about California and Texas requesting that the Department of Education allow them to administer fewer tests. The two states had different reasons for their requests and both were rejected. I didn't pay that much attention to California's reason, although I'll be curious to see what happens there (as it looks like they will go ahead and do what they were told they can't do).

The Texas issue, however, really struck me. Both Diane Ravitch and the post she quotes fully support Texas in its efforts to reduce testing. I can't believe I'm about to argue against that.

Texas requested permission not to test every student every year. Apparently students there take 17 tests before they get to high school. That seems to be shocking to some folks. Of course, when I count, our kiddos in Virginia take 11 tests in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. 17 doesn't seem like a stretch before high school at all.

I firmly believe that's too many tests. Way, way, way too many.

Texas is asking to not test children who have passed the previous year. For example, a child who passed the reading test in 3rd grade would not have to take it in 4th grade. If a child passes the test in 5th grade they should not have to take it in 6th or 7th. The reasoning is that students who have previously passed a test are significantly likely to pass the next one.

Well, duh.

It seems like students who didn't pass the test are significantly likely not to pass the next one as well. But Texas wants to keep giving them tests.

I have two issues with this. One is that if children are not passing the test I don't understand how giving them more tests is the best use of their time in school. Every time we administer a test we lose learning time. The kids who are not passing tests need that learning time the most but Texas wants to continue to deny it to them. In these moments I'm always left with the old saying in my head about how weighing a pig doesn't make it fatter (somewhere in there you've got to spend time feeding the pig well).

My second concern is that this would set up a two tiered instructional system (one that is, in many ways, already in existence). Students who pass the tests, overwhelmingly students from middle and upper class backgrounds, would be able to spend their time in school focused on genuine learning, questioning, and exploring while students who do not pass the tests, overwhelmingly students living in poverty, would continue to spend their days with drill and kill like instruction and more tests. (John Spencer had a fascinating piece about this exact issue not too long ago.)

I don't really blame Texas here. Not giving so many tests is a wonderful goal, but I don't believe it should be done in a way that will add to our educational segregation.

1 comment:

Michael Honel said...

Your ideas are so thoughtful. Just amazing. Thank you so much!