Education, learning, opt out, standardized testing, testing

Um, Yeah–It Actually IS about Testing

There are a myriad of reasons why families and students decide to opt out or refuse standardized testing. Some refuse because they resent the number of hours teachers spend testing (and “preparing”) students when they could be engaging in more meaningful instruction and assessment. Some refuse because they are frequently tied to teacher evaluation, which most reasonable, public education-savvy people would agree is unfair. Some refuse because they–let’s face it–will find any excuse they can to jump onto the Outraged American bandwagon.

Pretend there’s a bandwagon in this image.


A popular refrain among those who are opting out or refusing this kind of testing almost always includes some version of “we are not opposed to tests in general, just to standardized/high-stakes/one-size-fits-all tests.” They then go on to list the number of ways that standardized and/or high-stakes testing traumatizes students and undermines the value of authentic, meaningful learning.

But as those charming sisters featured in this widely-viewed parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” can attest, it IS all about the test. Or rather, testing in general. (This even despite their father’s statement in the accompanying article that he and his daughters are–wait for it!– “not against testing.”)

You see, almost all of the same arguments that can be made against standardized/high-stakes tests like Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and Georgia’s own CRTC exam can also be made against tests in general. Alfie Kohn has written much more eloquently about this and other questionable educational practices, but let’s take a moment to look at some of the most ubiquitous arguments against capital-T Testing just for kicks:

High-stakes tests negatively impact curriculum and instruction.
The question, “What is not being learned with the emphasis on these high-stakes tests?” can be applied to any test, teacher-created or otherwise. While keeping student outcomes or understandings in mind is important when designing curriculum and instruction, the sort of outcomes or understandings that can be reduced to a single test ensure that the curriculum itself will be “reduced” or limited. In a school such as the one in which I work, where inquiry-learning is highly valued and students have a strong voice in as many aspects of their day as possible (including how they choose to share their learning with others), tests are a dying breed. Instead of focusing on narrow standards that arbitrarily divide and separate “content,” schools should be focusing instead on developing broad competencies that can be explored in a variety of ways and that integrate a wide range of content and skills.

The validity of standardized tests are questionable at best.
When students are tested on their knowledge using, for example, a computer-adaptive test like the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I can’t help but question if the test is truly measuring what it purports to measure. Is it measuring a student’s mathematical understanding, or his ability to navigate a keyboard? Is it measuring his reading comprehension or his ability to articulate, in writing, what he understands about a passage? The same kinds of questions can be asked of other kinds of tests, many of which are biased against students who struggle with reading and the results of which may or–just as likely may not— extend to real-life settings/situations.

Capital-T Tests widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

If you are concerned with the way standardized assessments largely favor the experiences, lifestyles, and languages of those who might be considered non-marginalized (see this Introduction from The Black-White Score Gap and this brief 2012 piece in Time magazine for more), imagine the myriad of possible biases–as unintentional as they may be–inherent in teacher-created exams. Can we really be sure that the tests we–or God forbid, testing conglomerates like McGraw-Hill or Pearson–create are equally accessible to all of our students, regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, or home language?

If you’re thinking, but how will I know if my students learned ______________, I can assure you that there is a wide range of effective, valid, reliable, and engaging assessments to choose from that do not involve a student sitting down in front of a traditional test. (If you think you can stump me, pose your challenge in the comments section below.) So when advocates of the opt-out movement try to soften their stance on standardized testing by claiming that their concerns are “not about tests in general,” I can’t help but fantasize about being that little devil on their shoulder that whispers softly but firmly, Yes, actually, it is.


2 thoughts on “Um, Yeah–It Actually IS about Testing”

  1. Not mighty! But I agree that there are many more effective ways to measure achievement than a standardized test. It seems to me that the methodology will determine the assessment, so when you start out with inquiry-based learning, you won’t end up with standardized tests. And when you start out as “testlet” instructors, you end up with bubble sheets.

  2. Reblogged this on Teachezwell Blog and commented:
    My take on testing is that you end up on the instructional trajectory with which you began. Like this educator, if you start out with inquiry-based learning, you are more likely to end up with authentic assessment. If you start out as a testlet instructor, you end up with bubble sheets.

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