Friday, March 27, 2015

A Rant about Standardized Tests

My son is a junior in high school. This May he will be taking the SAT, an AP U.S. history test, and an AP macroeconomics test. He is also scheduled to take the brand-new Maine Educational Assessment, designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which sounds like a club for margarine fanciers.

This new margarine test will absorb significant class time. And what classes will my son miss? Why, his AP U.S. history and AP macroeconomics classes. In other words, he will compromise his scores on one set of standardized tests in order to fill out the little circles on another standardized test.

Let's talk about money: In the past, the high school has paid the costs for all juniors' SAT tests. But no more: now it is only paying for the margarine test, so I will be footing the bill for three of these delightful tests. I have not yet heard how much the SAT will cost, but together the two AP tests come to $164. I estimate that the total will be $250-300. [P.S. I will probably have to pay for another SAT test next fall.]

To recap: Boy's parents fork out a large sum of money so that Boy can take tests. Boy wants to do well on these tests that cost a large sum of money. Boy is worried about missing the classes that will help him do well on these tests that cost a large sum of money and may also affect his college admissions prospects.

Okay, you say. Wait a minute. I get why your son has to take the SAT. Most colleges still require it. But why are you, with your commitment to personalized progressive arts education, encouraging your son to sign up for AP tests. Aren't those optional?

The answer: In my son's high school, many of the upper-level honors classes have been replaced by AP classes. Ergo, anyone who wants to take honors-level physics has to take AP physics. The senior English situation is particularly silly. All seniors who want to take honors English have to take AP English . . . but they don't even take the AP exam until after they've all been accepted to colleges. If they don't take the exam, they fail the course. [And don't get me started on the fallacy of assuming that a high AP score means that you can automatically skip intro-level courses in college. You can't.]

Let's get back to the margarine test: My son is by no means the only kid in this bad position. Nearly every high-achieving junior is in exactly the same situation. Thus, many of their parents have told the school that they want their children to opt out of the margarine test. The school, however, is caught in an unpleasant bind. If all of the AP-taking juniors opt out of a state assessment, then the school's overall test scores are likely to be low. In Maine's current political climate, this means public shaming, and worse.

In sum: Throughout the United States, 11th graders are burdened with a ridiculous number of standardized tests. Why is the state torturing them with yet another high-stakes exam--and in the midst of what is already an insane standardized-test season?

How can teachers prepare students for an AP test when students cannot attend their AP classes? How can students feel confident about taking these difficult tests when they can't study for them with their teachers?

Why should a school be penalized when, by opting out of an extraneous assessment, its best students are making mature decisions about their futures?

Why, oh, why, must students, families, and schools continue to deal with these crazy Kafka-esque conundrums? If teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn, how can an assessment have any point at all?


Ruth said...

" If teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn, how can an assessment have any point at all?"
You have summed up the testing disaster succinctly in this last sentence. In my school, 12 weeks are devoted to prepping for the margarine test, learning how to take it (imagine little kids here who have to multi-task on split screens, scroll, highlight, cut, paste, etc!), then take the damn test!

Heather Ouellette-Cygan said...

Amen. I teach English 11. I'm losing significant teaching time with my students over the next couple of months. Keep on ranting. Something has got to change.

Carol Willette Bachofner said...

The situation is so insane that schools are flocking to drink the kool Aid ... thinking there must be something to this or we wouldn't be forced by the state to do it, i.e. we get (maybe) some additional federal dollars. We therefore are pimping out our kids for questionable ends. As a member of the school board here (RSU13) I can get NO ONE to pay attention to the problem. I am ridiculed when I point out the fallacies of putting instruction on hold for testing that will produce NO useable results, other than to hold teachers accountable and reduce their pay by way of results of tests they had no hand in creating, and which will not help them to help students who might do poorly on them. I am spitting into the wind every day here. The only hope at all is for parents, yes PARENTS, to opt their kids out, which is their right. If enough kids are opted out, the testing dies. Of course this doesn't help put instructional time back for kids like your son, Dawn. But maybe if kids are opted out in a very big public way, en masse, there can be no test given and kids can be in their classrooms. It is my understanding that at least 15% must agree to take the test in order for it to be held. Worth a shot. But parents need to go to their superintendents and principals and say NO to the testing.