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How Paula Would Use Testing

When the testing obsession started, I was baffled by the scores my students got in writing. Because educators weren't allowed to see the state test, much less get an idea of how it was scored, I had no idea how to remedy the situation.

After years of this testing, sample questions and answers finally became available, and the problem was crystal clear. The kind of writing expected on the test was very different from what we taught. Evaluators were looking for highly emotional writing, not analytical, and loved adjectives and adverbs. The more the merrier. My colleagues and I had been teaching kids to be clear and concise and to base their ideas on evidence, not emotion. 

Every spring I began to spend a week on TCAP, teaching kids to write for that one test—a skill they would not use for any other purpose. My kids’ TCAP scores went up, and my colleagues implemented my unit. It was of little benefit to kids, but they all learned it. The Common Core led to some improvement. At least it shifted CMAS to the kind of writing schools teach. 

I think there is value to periodic testing of students, using some kind of national standards as benchmarks. As you can read in other issue statements I’ve made, I believe we need to allot resources based upon school and student needs. We also need to examine how institutional racism affects achievement. Testing helps identify these issues, though it doesn’t necessarily need to happen every year.

As student, teacher, or school assessment tools, however, once-a-year national tests are of very little use. There are other tests that educators may find useful, such as MAPS, which deliver real-time data that can be acted upon immediately. In addition, teachers create evaluations all the time in the forms of writing assignments, tests and quizzes, and projects. These are most valuable for individual classrooms.

A school board has the responsibility to ensure fair and equitable opportunities for all students. Large-scale testing can be useful in fulfilling this obligation. That said, such measurements can be obtained without spending weeks of time on tests that have become far too high-pressure for students, parents, and educators alike. Let’s use test scores more productively.

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