It’s February, and as a parent of a school-age child, you may have heard that you can opt out of state standardized testing. According to the No Child Left Behind Act, states must provide standardized testing, and the media, school leaders, and fellow parents all have advice for you: the test is deceptively important, the test is unduly difficult, the test is exorbitantly expensive, the test is illegally used to evaluate teachers, the test is unfairly deciding your child’s future, etc. Whatever you have heard, you have parts of the information. You will never have the whole story. None of us have the correct answer for you. You must decide whether your child will take part in the testing, but here’s why I think it’s okay for students to go ahead and take the standardized test:
1) Educational experiences end with assessments. After you study, there is a test. You have to prove yourself. I recently took another certification test to add to my teaching license. I passed with no points to spare, but I passed. If I had not signed up, paid, and took practice tests on the computer, I would not have the certification. I’m not happy about the experience (especially the money part), but at the same time, I did get what I wanted by making the effort and doing my best. This also goes for sports activities: you try out for the team, you practice, and you win (or lose) games/meets/championships. Are you happy you’re on the team? Are you a better person for having the experience? Sometimes it’s better to participate than be left out. Another life-changing event that comes to mind is the driver’s license. Even if you don’t take a driver’s education course, you must pass the written and driving parts of the test to receive a license to drive. If you don’t take the test, you remain unlicensed. Why not try?
2) The standardized test, in my experience, does cover the state standards. Every year, I teach concepts of reading and writing: theme, point of view, characterization, grammar sense, writing “on-the-fly” to persuade or inform. Even though I don’t see the questions in advance, I do teach so that students will learn skills that will improve their reading and writing over the course of a school year. I’m not so concerned about the actual test score number, but rather if the child understands more about reading and writing than before I taught him/her. All I want for my students is the best.
3) Well-meaning, educated, caring people do understand that the test is a snapshot. No one test can show everything there is to know about a student. It’s impossible. A score is a number, a piece of data that we should use as such, along with many other factors, to form a picture of what a child can do at any one point in time. Teachers, parents, and even public leaders won’t remember a child’s test score from sixth grade when that child graduates from high school, but we will celebrate a wonderful accomplishment during the graduation ceremony.
When a child gets into trouble, the parent disciplines according to the infraction. After taking the phone away, a mom hears, “You don’t know me at all!” But the parent, over the course of many experiences does know what is best for their child at that moment. Similarly, the state government employs consequences for a school (or even a teacher) that doesn’t “make the grade.” It’s called accountability. I understand enough to know that one test, created by a corporation that makes money selling their product to a state’s school districts cannot decide what my students are capable of. And yet, if my students fail, I fail. I must find out why – reflect and reteach, adjust, and learn from the experience. I want what is best for my students, as well as myself, and my school.
A test is a piece of information. Thinking about testing as separate events that happen throughout life, I relay a message to the parent: help your child see this standardized test for what it is – a data point in a moment of time – and encourage your child to take the test seriously and do the best they can. That’s all any of us should want for our children. The best.
Disclosure: This post reflects my own opinions, thoughts, and experiences.