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Yup. This is a huge source of frustration (as I'm sure you'll soon see in this discussion) for all of us as well as a political "hot button." Standardized tests are certainly a measure of student achievement, but to assume they're the only measure is foolish. I used to teach in Iowa, birthplace of one of those standardized tests--ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills). The author of that test has gone on record as being appalled that this test, among others, is being used to somehow validate student learning and teacher performance. This particular set of tests was designed more as a diagnostic tool; instead, in the frenzy for nationwide assessment tools, these exams became a measure of achievement. Any such test only measures some things about learning. What a student eats, how much he sleeps, whether he is encouraged at home, how many hours a week he works, what other distractions may interfere, how he feels on the morning of the exam, and so many more--all things which are generally out of a teacher's or a school's control-- all have as much if not more impact on student achievement.
How else are you going to measure learning in any way that is not totally susceptible to manipulation by the teacher? We have to have standards that are objective and tests that assess student learning objectively too. I'm not saying that the ones we have now are the answer, but if you say we can't do standardized testing, we're back to each teacher deciding what his/her students need to learn and how well they need to learn it. That hasn't exactly gotten us a stellar educational system.
While I sympathize with your frustration, I disagree with several of the myths underpinning it. Standardized testing by state departments of education is based on the curriculum framework for the state. In many cases now, the curriculum framework for core academic subjects will the new national standards commissioned by the governors' association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
A curriculum framework is nothing more than an organized list of standards that describe what students should know and be able to do at a given grade level or in a given high school course. Standardized tests are administered to measure how well students can perform tasks, identify information, work problems, etc., on those standards.
Accomplished teachers make it their business to become intimately acquainted with the state standards, as well as the format of the state tests, NOT TO "TEACH TO THE TESTS," but to teach to the standards and assess in a manner that resembles the tests in many cases. Lessons and instruction are planned based on the state framework, with the teacher identifying the essential topics and standards that must be "covered" by all students in depth, and judiciously adding others when appropriate if time permits.
I can promise you, that if you follow this process, your students will perform at proficient or advanced, unless they have learning disabilities, and often even then.
I think drmonica has nailed it. I would only add that you have to include curriculum based common assessments throughout the year to see if indeed your students are getting it. Waiting until the high stakes test and that being the only measure is not good. That is however the only way most states have of evaluating schools.
Standardized testing is necessary since there are some teachers who would do virtually no teaching without them. They are not a solution, by any means; they are simply one criterion that is objective. Often students will attempt to learn what they need to in order to pass these tests if their graduating depends upon such passing, so there are positive aspects to them, after all.
Good teachers use standardized testing as the minimum benchmark and encourage students in higher level thinking and many of the old basics for sound thinking, such as reading and writing and problem solving.
I would speculate that many of the powers that be who support this type of standardized testing support it for a couple of reasons. 1)They have not spent much time teaching in a classroom.
2)That is how they were assessed in school.
3)Multiple-choice standardized testing is much easier and cheaper to grade than any other form of assessment.
Might not be true for all of them, but I bet it is for a lot of them.
Standardized tests are big business. It's a billion dollar industry. So since No Child Left Behind was the work of the Business Roundtable, it's natural that it would have been designed to make businesses, especially textbook companies, money.
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