Testing in Public Education Part 2, A Love-Hate Relationship

Posted on: Thu, 10/04/2018 - 09:00

Last week’s blog detailed the history of testing and accountability in Maryland. After nearly 2 decades of similar policy, is it time to evolve?

Significant push back against standardized testing has occurred over the last few years. Teachers across the country engaged in a campaign to reduce the time spent on testing. Parents expressed concern about the stress their children experienced due to high stakes testing. Educational leaders tried to navigate school systems through relentless mandates to update curricular standards and prepare for the "next generation" of accountability testing.

And yet, policy makers at the federal and state levels remained committed to an accountability program focused on test scores. Even the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was passed amidst a debate on the role the federal government should play in education, clung to an accountability structure very similar to the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. Why?

Public dollars pay for public education, and policy makers want accountability to ensure the money is being well spent. That is reasonable. However, do we really need to test students every year to determine if schools are doing a good job? And do the test scores alone indicate how effective schools really are? We frequently hear comparisons of American test scores to higher performing countries across the world - yet seldom do we hear the comparisons to the educational policies of those same countries. No country attempts to grade schools like we do here in the United States.

Many community members are concerned that if we eliminate standardized testing, then we will overlook the achievement gaps that exist. I understand that fear. Eliminating the achievement gap has to be the primary concern of every educator in this country! However, nearly two decades of standardized testing has not achieved the goal of eliminating the gap. Too often the standardized test results are correlated with a student’s zip code and community’s wealth. Testing alone is not going to effect a change - a combination of social policy coupled with an investment in the support for public education that truly makes a difference is what we need!

Is there another way? Recently, many colleges have begun to use an "SAT optional" approach for college admissions. These colleges recognize a single test score is not the best predictor of being "college ready." Many school systems across the country are exploring competency-based education models that focus on students demonstrating their competency in a particular standard in a variety of ways (including but not limited to taking a test). Scientists are discovering that the science of the individual (Rose, 2016) can lead to improvements in the treatment of diseases; just imagine the possibilities if we adopted that approach in education!

I hope that we can muster the courage to transform public education in the United States!  We are doing our part here in Frederick County with LYNX - a high school model designed to embrace the individual. Ironically, when we sought legislative relief from mandates to begin LYNX, we were granted exceptions to everything except required testing. Transformation is not easy!

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