Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Very Serious Defense of Standardized Testing

Is standardized testing all bad? No, of course not! How can a practice focusing on accountability be a bad thing? All other occupations have some kind of standard, so what makes teaching so special? If a doctor never actually cures a single patient or his patients never get better, should he be allowed to continue his practice?

Teachers teach, and we must have a way to measure their performance. After all, this is how society works. Teaching is not like babysitting in which we send over our children to school, and as long as they come home safely for dinner, we are happy. We want our children to learn, to compete, and to have sufficient knowledge when they graduate from high school. In order for that to happen, teachers need to teach. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that teachers are not teaching, but I want to see the results on paper!

Please don’t tell me that standardized tests encourage teachers teaching to the test. There are countries (e.g., Japan and Taiwan) that required students to take a college entrance exam. They are not complaining, aren’t they? In fact, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, their students are doing so much better than the U.S. Can we say that by having a national academic standard, Japanese students and Taiwanese students are doing better in school? Standardized testing gives students a goal to achieve, so they do it!

“But we are not Japan! Our students are so heterogeneous. One size won’t fit all!” Well, this is a good argument. How is it possible for teachers to teach students coming from numerous cultural backgrounds and still expect all of them to achieve to the same level? Nobody said it’s going to be easy, but we have to try! By having a unified standard, we can educate our children in a much more effective way. Scholars around the country are researching the best way to teach lessons. The author of “The Teaching Gap”, James Hiebert, is currently leading a longitudinal study to figure out a lesson plan for all teachers to use at classrooms. It is possible.

Standardized test is necessary for our nation to be on the top of the world. Education is important. We realized how behind we were when Sputnik went up to the sky. It’s time for us to wake up and push our children to be the best they can be.



Janice Hansen said...

A test is a test is a test. It's what the test is used for that impacts students and educators. It is always difficult to compare across countries, but multiple studies suggest that countries such as those cited here (Japan & Taiwan) have much clearer links between classroom practice and stated standards as well as national curricula that supports those standards. I don't think many people argue that it is a good idea to find out how different schools and districts are doing against some set standard. The argument comes from how those tests are used--and misused, how useful they are to educators and students, and who ultimately bears the responsibility of our country's inability to adequately educate our children to those standards. Should individual students be held accountable for systemic problems?

Which brings us to Sputnik. The positive response to Sputnik came about due to a new emphasis on curriculum development and making new connections between the science community and the education community. Teachers were excited and anxious to increase their content-based knowledge--not the response that the current widespread move toward testing has achieved among educators.

A good, easy-read review of the American successes as a result of Sputnik can be found here: . The lessons learned then seem to have been lost in the current knee-jerk reponse to international assessment comparisons. It is important to note that America, as a result of these post-Sputnik reforms (which were not test-based) did win the space race and did it in a very short amount of time.

Wide-spread assessment is politically attractive because it is something everyone can comprehend intuitive level. But, the reality is much more comlicated than this simple understanding. Testing is not a panacea for the social and educational problems that contribute to the inequalities that exist in this country at this time. Until we can begin to unravel some of those problems, standardized group testing can best be viewed as a way to conceptualize much bigger, society-based issues and not to judge individual performance.

Remi Mizuiri said...

I do agree that standardized testing creates fair, accurate, and necessary statistics for the general public to compare and contrast schools in certain areas. It also is a great way to differentiate status groups of income, race, gender, parental education level, etc. On the other hand, there are always negative perspectives which view these tests as a scrutiny or critical analysis of these status groups, particularly minorities of lower income level, and with parents of lower educational attainment. I feel that the purpose of standardized testing is adequate (to manage and overlook the progress and achievement levels of schools), but I believe that the results are not adequately met: we still need to figure out an efficient way to help or encourage the schools that have poor outcomes or test scores.