Testing the System

 

 

In a high school classroom, students’ cries of relief intermingle with exasperated groans following an announcement by their teacher, “Grab your things and head to the library. We will be testing today.” As standardized testing increasingly joins the list of activities that decrease time spent actively learning, many question the merit of such assessments.

College-bound high school students are subject to tests like the ACT and SAT in order to even apply to most colleges and universities. AP courses offer advantages like college credit at an incredibly low price and college preparation, but these benefits come at the cost of even more testing.

Students are bound to protest at any test, but even teachers balk at many of the required exams. District-mandated acuity tests, for example, are meant to guide teachers, informing them of what students struggle with. However, the effectiveness of this test is limited in so many ways that it can be considered little more than a waste of time.

Jill Thackeray, AP and IB English teacher at Skyline High School, finds the standards to be, “much lower than [her] own.” Thackeray frequently assigns “multiple paragraph essays” to ensure “college and career readiness” in her students.  In contrast, the most highly graded exemplar on the acuity test contains a meager paragraph.

The test is based on the common core, which is meant to guarantee preparedness for college. Yet, college courses are notoriously writing intensive. An easy test with a high pass rate does nothing to expose potential issues and instead instills a false confidence in both teachers and students.

Another problem, Thackeray points out, is the use of a uniform model for all skill levels. AP students are already engaged in college-level class work, so they do not struggle to comply with the already low expectations. In efforts to prepare all students for higher learning, valuable time is being wasted by testing students who have already exhibited a skill set that exceeds basic standards.

“I can’t even access the data, I don’t know how,” criticizes Thackeray. Instead, she uses class discussions and students’ essays to find out where more instruction is needed. “That’s what I’ve always done,” she says, “and my students are successful.”

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