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What the dog thought — and what it tells us about standardized tests

Now that standardized testing season is upon us, retired OUSD teacher Steven Weinberg offers another critique of the California Standards Tests.

Steven WeinbergMany people wonder why teachers object so strongly to the use of standardized test results to evaluate their teaching. After all, some would argue, student learning is the whole purpose of education, and these tests are supposed to measure student learning.

One reason teachers object to these tests is that they know what a poor job the tests do in actually measuring student learning. They have seen the tests and know how flawed and arbitrary they can be. It is hard to share this information with the public because teachers are forbidden from divulging the contents of the test to anyone, and they can be penalized severely for doing so.

The only time the public can see any items from the California Standards Tests (CSTs) is when the state releases a few questions that are no longer being used and posts those items on its website. Generally the state is very careful not to release any flawed items, but occasionally one slips by, and those items are worth examining because they show clearly what is wrong with these tests and why it is unfair to evaluate teachers based upon them.

The example I will cite today is from the eighth grade language arts test. According to the chart that accompanies the released items, it is supposed to be measuring how well students learned (and, by implication, how well teachers taught) Reading Standard 3.6 “Identify significant literary devices (e.g., metaphor, symbolism, dialect, irony) that define a writer’s style and use those elements to interpret the work.”

Imagine you are a teacher and have spent weeks teaching significant literary devices such as metaphor, symbolism, dialect, and irony, and then you find your students faced with this question on the test:

Sheepdog

In the green field stand the scattered sheep,
pretending innocence,
and the Shepherd standing
just beyond the field—
and at the Shepherd’s feet, poised,
the rough-coat collie dog, with one thought only.
It is the woolies.
Her eyes, one blue, one brown
never leave them.

Here is the question:

44. Why is line 7 (“It is the woolies.”) in “Sheepdog” italicized?

A. to show this is the dog’s appearance
B. to give the text of the poem variety
C. to indicate that is the dog’s thought
D. to indicate a change in the tone

This question isn’t about a significant literary device such as metaphor, symbolism, dialect, or irony. It is not a question based on any of the eighth grade standards at all. It is, instead, about a rather obscure convention for using italics to show the thoughts of a character. This convention is so unimportant that it is not even mentioned in any of the state adopted texts for middle schools or high schools. (By the way, none of the rules for using italics that are in those books are tested.) No teacher who was teaching the California standards would cover this use of italics, yet it is tested on the California Standards Test.

This question is not unique. There are other flawed items on these tests. In fact, there were two other questions on this same test about this poem that were even worse. I am not allowed to reveal them, because they have not been “released” by the state, but one had two possible correct answers (only one of which was counted as correct), and the other had, as its correct answer, a phrase that made no sense at all (imagine something like “the oxygen-breathing era of United States history”).

How do flawed questions get on such important tests? The tests used in California (and most other states) are produced by private, profit-making companies which are seeking to construct the tests as quickly and cheaply as possible. They have huge data-banks of questions they have created for various purposes over the years, and it is far cheaper to use one of those old questions than create a new one, even if the old question doesn’t really fit the standard that is supposed to be tested.

Teachers have every right to insist that they not be judged by tests that do not match the standards they are charged with teaching. They have every right to demand the same high standards for our tests as we have for our students.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Lara Trale

    Thank you, Steven! Several of my students told me, after their first half-day of CSTs today, “Ms. Trale, everything on the test was stuff you taught us!” While I was pleased that they felt prepared for today’s exams, I also fear that, as you have discussed above, I and the makers of the CST may differ too greatly in our interpretations of state standards.

  • Catherine

    At my school, we have spent the last three weeks (except for Spring Break) spending time in class taking portions of the release questions. We were even “strongly advised” to send portions of the release questions and the “Spectrum Test Prep” book home for practice over the break. Ordinarily I would have students read a book, usually a novel and create a flip journal with perspectives of two characters from the book. I was advised that this could wait until after the CST.

    Steven: I agree that this question is arbitrary and even silly; however, students in private schools and in the ‘burbs learn this style of writing pseudo dialog in upper elementary classrooms. The tests are written for students who live in upper middle class households in the suburbs.

  • Turanga_teach

    Several years ago, as a relatively new special education teacher with one of the hardest autism caseloads in one of Oakland’s more challenged flatlands schools, I had a bit of an existential crisis and fled to Washington D.C. for a summer internship at a world-renowned think tank.

    I saw these tests being made, for many different states and many different grade levels–by kids straight out of college with no education experience. 21-year-olds staring at computer screens, filling their item banks. Knocking their brains for another wrong answer, trying to come up with another question on another standard they don’t really understand. I’m sure their work was edited and compiled by experienced statisticians and testing professionals, but it struck me nevertheless how the grunt work was being done.

    And now, back in the teaching trenches, I’m prepping the materials and thinking about back then. It is so desperately hard to swallow the idea that these tests are the sum total of all a child’s learning, when you know how small and how arbitrary these measures really are.

  • FormerOaklandTeacher

    Catherine, as a former “flatlands” teacher for three years, I would argue that students from low-income neighborhoods can and should be taught that use of italics as well. Are they? In my classroom they were.

    But as a means to understand poetry and prose, not to address the listed standard.

  • Zinnia

    I would add to Steven’s concerns about teachers being judged, that the students are very much being judged. Poor test scores can affect students in many ways, including causing permanent damage to their self esteem.

  • Gordon Danning

    I am not conversant with middle school ELA standards, however, it seems to me that the question at issue is reasonably fair, since the correct answer is the only reasonable answer. The first 2 are obviously wrong. As for the 4th answer, wouldn’t a kid who knows about tone know that #4 is wrong?

    The problem with the tests is not that there are a few problematic ones here and there; it is that they test only content standards, as opposed to thinking and analysis standards. If those were tested, I would welcome teachers being judged thereby.

  • Georganne Ferrier

    I think some of the responses here show exactly how pernicious the state’s standardized tests are; they lure teachers into teaching trivial, even erroneous, rules masquerading as “standards” worthy of use as measurements of learning.

    First of all, NO ONE should be teaching that direct thoughts must be italicized. I taught high school English for 41 years and was amazed at the suggestion. I ran to my shelf of grammar books and found no such rule in Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (a guide used by many publishers and colleges), in Write for College or Write Source (two style and grammar handbooks published by Great Source publishers of Writer’s Inc, widely used in both public and private schools), or in The Borzoi Handbook for Writers (an assigned text at a local prestigious college). In fact, Borzoi’s index lists 15 different uses for italics–more than any of the other texts–none of them having to do with indicating thoughts. So here some misguided test-maker creates a question about a non-existent rule, the state uses the test and then publicly releases the item for instruction, and no doubt some teachers who haven’t the time to research every miniscule item are suddenly duped into teaching their students that thoughts are italicized.

    But to be fair, since English has no hard and fast rule about how to handle direct thoughts, I went to several pieces of literature where I knew characters’ thoughts showed up in key scenes to see how many authors chose to use italics to indicate thoughts. This is what I found in some of the commonly taught literary texts:

    In “Chapter One” of Alice in Wonderland, Alice’s thoughts are in quotation marks. In Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, when the old man is fighting off the sharks attacking his fish, what he says aloud is in quotation marks (a hard and fast rule of English style that children should and probably do learn) but his thoughts are in plain font, not italicized. In Golding’s Lord of the Flies, in the key scene where Simon sits in the bushes and contemplates the head of the sow on a stick, his thoughts and the thoughts of the pig’s head (which, of course are actually Simon’s thoughts) are not italicized; in the final scene of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, as the main character thinks about why she is committing suicide, her thoughts are in quotation marks. In Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, the entire book is the main character’s thoughts (he has returned from the war without arms or legs) and none are italicized—it would be a mess of a book if they were. (The Borzoi Handbook’s 7th entry for italics is “overuse of” and it warns, “Prose that is riddled with italics creates a frenzied effect.”) In fact, I didn’t happen upon any book where characters’ thoughts were italicized. There probably are some, but there clearly is no rule that says that thoughts are italicized, yet the state standardized test felt this was a “significant literary device” for which students should be held accountable—and those who argue that teachers should be rewarded or punished by how well their students do on these tests would use this spurious measure to hold their teachers accountable too?

    Of course, it hasn’t come to that yet. But the damage that has been done is this: teachers have been lured into teaching students the skill of eliminating the “obvious” wrong answer, as Gordon Danning suggests, instead of real interpretation and deep consideration of what is going on in the poem.

    Well, Gordon, I don’t agree that there is only one possible answer. In fact, I don’t agree that the state’s answer is the best answer. Here is how I would like my students to interpret what is going on in that poem about the dog’s thoughts:

    The correct answer is “D. to indicate a change in the tone.” There is a change in tone where the italics show up. All the previous lines are straight objective narration—just a description of the scene: green fields, sheep, a shepherd with a dog at his feet. Then comes the line, “It is the woolies,” which is not only the dog’s thought, but more importantly establishes the dog’s intense attitude and focus on the sheep. The poem shifts from an objective voice of the narrator to the inner emotion of the dog.

    The change in tone is an important point—though the test makers were too focused on a simple “correct” answer to delve very deeply into the poem and to notice that there is another—better—answer that a sensitive reader might come up with. And be marked down for choosing.

    These tests should not be used to evaluate teachers, and they should certainly not be used as a guide as to what or how to teach. They do a great disservice to both teachers and students, whose thinking processes are being squelched by the suggestion that their worth lies in thinking like the test-makers in one line answers. The entire nation should be kicking and screaming about what is being robbed from our youth.

  • Gordon Danning

    Georganne:

    But, is the purpose of the italicization to indicate a change in tone? That’s what the question asks. Isn’t D the distractor? Is the question unfair, or simply difficult?

    But, really, we should be judging the tests based on all the questions, not just one. The history questions, for example, focus almost entirely on factual recall, as opposed to analysis. That’s a problem; if the state tested analysis, more teachers would teach it. But perhaps the history questions are an exception. Maybe a science teacher on here can tell us what the science questions are like.

  • Joe

    Funny thing is it will not work with students who have their pants sagging half down their a## and with gold teeth.

    Get in them in their seats and deal wth that firts. All this talk begining with the guy who posted whose kids attended private schools.

    Theory is not real in flatland schools. Teachers dont want to be judges period!

  • Turanga_teach

    At the risk of inciting the ire of the CST security heavies, let me tell the story of the CAPA (California Alternative Performance Assessment for students with severe disabilities) last year.

    In reading, students were asked to select the red book over the blue book.

    In math, the same students were asked to indicate the mean, median, and mode of several data sets.

    I lose roughly 15 instructional hours and at least that much prep time every year to give these things. Double rating requires that I drag the speech therapist or school psychologist out of his/her own direct work with our neediest kids to watch me put my students through this meaningless parade.

    And that’s without factoring in all the time necessary to prep, deliver, and package the OTHER standardized assessments, for my students with less significant disabilities.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but we sure as hell don’t have it yet.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    I’m thinking that most students who read the Dog question carefully would figure out the correct answer. However, no, I wouldn’t consider it an ELA-related question–more a quiz of the deductive logic skills that students that help students decipher what they’re reading.

    However, I’ve seen numerous flaky questions on these tests over the years. The most common, in my experience, is indeed the question with two answers that could possibly be correct.

    It doesn’t surprise me to hear that the test publishers are pulling in freelance workers, presumably at bargain pay, to write these test questions. It would surprise me if the tests were edited for much more than spelling errors and basic grammar. The primary focus is probably matching the “correct” answer in the booklet with the correct bubble on the answer sheet.

    Having worked in publishing, I can all but guarantee that there’s not much emphasis on putting oneself in the place of the children who may be taking the test. The editors are working in a short-staffed department, under frantic pressure to make the product deadline. Anyone who slows down the process by checking too closely for quality won’t be rewarded for diligence. Customer complaints are extremely few (our students certainly aren’t writing to the publishers, and how many teachers do?), so “good enough” is more about slapping a cover on the test and getting it out the door on time.

    Still, the biggest problem I see with gauging the schools by these tests is the number of students who simply don’t take them seriously. Some of you probably saw the article last month, in the CTA magazine, about the teachers at Del Norte High School who have decided to tie students’ class grades to their CST scores.

    http://www.cta.org/Professional-Development/Publications/Educator-Mar-11/A-new-twist-on-tests.aspx

    It’s hard to predict how this will work out; for one thing, the test scores aren’t released until the following school year, so the plan is to raise the grades retroactively (there are no grade penalties for doing poorly on the tests).

    But the Del Norte teachers’ efforts to introduce some level of student accountability is totally understandable. Just yesterday, I saw again what happens every year: students “finishing” their tests within ten or twenty minutes, bubbling answers without even turning the pages in the test booklet, and then putting their heads down to sleep or wondering why they couldn’t listen to their IPods. “But I’m ALL DONE!”

    When students see such little reason to buy into the state tests, then using the scores to measure what they know, or whether schools are effective, seems to exemplify what ed professors refer to as “inauthentic assessment.”

  • Steven Weinberg

    Thank you all for your comments on this posting. I particularly appreciate the insights of those, like Turanga_teach and Ms. McLaughlin, who have worked in the publishing industry who helped us understand the way these tests are prepared and why the quality is often so low.

    For those who hope that the new tests, being created by the two consortia of states which received federal grants to produce new tests based the common core standards, would be better, an article in the April 20, 2011 Education Week is chilling. Mark Reckase, a professor of measurement and quantitative methods at Michigan State University, is quoted: “One of the biggest problems with state assessments and national assessments is they are typically not done on a budget and a timeline that allow people to go out and do the pilot testing and tryouts that you would like. I’ve looked at the timelines for this, and they are fast; there will be incredible pressure to just get it done.”

    “Incredible pressure to just get it done” pretty much describes everything about the testing process in California. In eight years as testing coordinator at my site I saw tests where the numbering on the answer sheets did not match the numbering in the test booklets. I have seen the identical test question appear two different times on the same test. I have had tests delivered to the district after the dates they were to be given. On one statewide seventh grade writing test, the directions that teachers were to read were for a different type of writing than the one assigned in the test booklets.

    And the State Department of Education is so dependent on the testing companies to create these mandated assessments, the department does not hold the publishers responsible for their mistakes, and indeed, the department becomes complicit in covering up the mistakes. In the instance where the directions on the writing test did not match the writing type, I noticed the error late Friday afternoon when I was preparing the materials for distribution on Monday for the test to be given on Tuesday. I immediately called state department to report the error and was threaten with disciplinary action for having looked at the test. I explained that there could be no security breech if I read the directions after school on Friday afternoon, when the instructions for the testing coordinator required me to meet with teachers and explain the directions to them on Monday. Then I pointed out the stupidity of their taking their time to scold me rather than investigate their error which would invalidate tens of thousands of tests. The woman on the phone finally looked at the materials, gasped in horror, and admitted that she had never proofread the instructions before they were printed. She would call all district testing coordinators and warn them of the error and post new directions on the internet. Did she thank me for my timely warning? No. The best she could manage was “Luckily I didn’t write down your name, so I won’t have to take any action against you.” A great system. The testing company and state department make an error, and I’m the one in trouble.

    Lara, I hope the test scores do end up confirming your excellent work in the classroom.

    Catherine, I feel your frustration on being pressured to do test prep instead of actual teaching. My guess is that your students would have benefited more from doing the novel. I was never a big fan of going over the released items with students. There is one thing we know for sure about a released item—it will never again appear on a test. (I do, however, think the items are useful for teachers to examine early in the school year to have an idea of the form of questions, and to incorporate those forms into their regular work.)

    Turanga_teach, great comments, as always.

    Former Oakland Teacher, I’m impressed that you found time to cover the use of italics to represent the thoughts of characters to help your students’ understand prose and poetry, but I’m curious as to exactly where you found examples to show them. Despite having minored in English in college and having taught English for many years, I had never noticed that use until I saw it on the test. Since then I have seen it in my own reading, but not often. The eighth grade Holt anthology had only one instance in 852 pages of italics being used in this manner. There are 7 different things highlighted in the Teachers’ Edition for teachers to point out to students about the section where the italics appear, and the italics are not one of them.

    Zinnia, thank you for pointing out the damage these tests do to students. That is by far their worst aspect.

    Gordon, My point was not that the question was impossible to students to answer, but that it didn’t test the standard it claimed to test. You teach 10th grade World History and have a long list of factual standards to cover. How would you respond to this question: Following a revolution, Getulio Vargas became the president of what country? A. Mexico, B. Brazil, C. Cuba, D. Argentina. It is a world history question about the time period being covered, but it has nothing to do with any of the standards listed for your course.

    Using process of elimination is a good test taking skill, but the eighth grade English anthology has twice as many instances of italics being used to show a change of tone that it does for a character’s thoughts.

    I do agree with you that the history tests are far too heavy on facts and too light on critical thinking. The problem is that critical thinking is not easy to test with multiple choice items, which gets back to the problem of over-reliance on these types of tests.

    Georganne, thank you for your extensive research.

    Ms. McLaughlin, I worked at middle school where our testing was a bit more limited than at the high school level. In eighth grade, where the number of tests double, we begin to see a little of the problem you mention, so I understand how that would be worse in high school. Having students tested by their own teachers helps a great deal.

    Joe, I can’t figure out what you are referring to when you say “it will not work.” Sometimes the comments get printed out of order and maybe that happened in this case.

  • Bones

    Yes, the tests are flawed. Two thoughts:

    1. We’re not nitpicking between 80% proficient/advanced and 85% proficient/advanced. We’re talking about 20-30% of the students testing proficient/advanced at schools. That’s not just the test being bad. That’s students who don’t know their materials (and teachers who aren’t teaching them it).

    Getting Below Basic, rather than Far Below Basic, requires maybe 4-5 correct answers and then a 25% correct completion rate on the remainder of the test, and yet we have thousands of students in the district testing at FBB.

    2. It’s easy to point out how things are wrong. What’s a better solution that is cost-effective and scalable?

  • Steven Weinberg

    Bones, I never said that eliminating flawed questions on the CSTs would eliminate the achievement gap. But when a student misses a question that has nothing to do with the state standards, such as the question I posted, you cannot use that question to establish whether or not a teacher did a good job. You seem to be saying the tests are flawed, but you’re OK with that because the results would be about the same even if they were not flawed.
    You ask me for a better solution that is cost-effective and scalable. That leads me to ask, in what ways are the CSTs a solution to anything. They tell us information we already knew (and to the degree that the scores don’t match what we believe based on our observations, we don’t believe the scores). The testing mania has distorted education in many ways. Even President Obama has recently drawn the distinction between the types of tests his daughters take at their private school and the overtesting currently done in public schools (that his own Department of Education is wedded to), which he said kills the joy of learning. Reducing the amount of testing would save money and increase instructional time.
    But whatever tests we have should be accurate, so here is a simple way to improve the CST tests. Create a data base that attaches two names to every question on the CSTs: one, the person from the testing company who created the item; and second, the person from the State Department of Education who approved it. Then release all items that are no longer going to be used with the names of those people attached. Let’s start with accountability at the top, not the bottom.

  • http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    This week, an adult overseeing high school CST testing just told me about how one student had randomly filled in the test’s bubbles, taking about five minutes. I bet a fair amount of this goes on at the more defiant-minded, secondary school level.

    You can lead a horse to water…

  • Steven Weinberg

    It would be interesting to know how many Oakland or California students who have passed the High School Exit Exam score Far Below Basic on the English CST. That would clearly indicate that those students were not even trying on the CST, because getting 30% correct on that test (what is required to not be in the Far Below Basic category) is far easier than getting a passing score on the CAHSEE. Once a student passes the CAHSEE I see little value in having them take the CSTs. Let them focus on the college admission exams that really matter.

  • Bones

    Steven, you are putting words into my mouth. I’ll keep things simple for ya:

    1. Are there dumb questions on the CSTs? Yes. There are idiotic questions on teachers’ tests, the SAT (“an exam that really matters”), and every other test as well. Ever had a job interview? You’ll get dumb questions there too. Knowing the teacher who wrote these questions or the interviewer who asked them doesn’t seem to impede this from happening, and telling people that they shouldn’t play in a system that isn’t 100% fair is naive.

    2. Is every question on the CSTs dumb? No. Some of them test very basic skills that anyone with a basic grasp of the subject matter should be able to answer. The CSTs are not a difficult exam. Yes, there are external factors that make life very difficult for many students in Oakland, and yes, teachers get students with all different levels of ability at the beginning of the school year, but at the end of the day, the large majority of students who are on track to be college-ready will score proficient/advanced on the CSTs, dumb questions and all.

    Net net? My beef with your post is that you (and many teachers) are focusing their energy on nitpicking something that doesn’t really matter. I would recommend that teachers focus more energy on teaching students what they need to learn (because even if we had a perfect testing system in place today our kids still wouldn’t be learning what they need to survive) and the scores, imperfect measures and all, will follow.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Bones, I poured a huge amount of time and energy into my teaching for 40 years and still managed to find a few hours a year to criticize the flaws in the test. The two things are not exclusive. You think the flaws on the test don’t matter. I disagree. Those flaws that we are free to discuss because they are included on the released items are only the tip of the iceberg. Every testing expert not employed by a testing company agrees that the tests are seriously deficient, and even the heads of the testing companies have said that the budget they are given for preparing the tests are too small to do an adequate job.

  • J.R.

    Bones,
    Before test mania which I agree is stupid, there were and still are deficiencies in the system itself(woeful teachers, woeful students, woeful parents and woeful administrators). Bottom line is, and you are right that the basic problem is students are failing to learn and retain the grade level material being taught. Whether this is bad teachers or bad teaching or unmotivated students is the question. One thing is sure this district was and is underachieving before there were any reforms or testing mania.

  • Gordon Danning

    Bones:

    When you say that the CSTs are not difficult, and that “the large majority of students who are on track to be college-ready will score proficient/advanced on the CSTs, dumb questions and all[,]” aren’t you saying that the tests are largely irrelevant? Yeah, smart, motivated, hard-working kids (ie, college ready) will do better on any test you give them. So, since there is no pretest, isn’t the test mostly just a measure of
    what kind of kids walk in the door? (In fairness, the State does try to control for that by issuing a “similar schools” score)

    BTW, if the tests aren’t hard, then there is something wrong with them. If I give nothing but easy tests, then I will never know who has truly mastered the material.

    More to Steve’s point, though, is that if the test is supposed to measure how well schools are teaching, then they should only test what is on the standards. If Steve is right, and many questions are not on the standards, then the test is a waste of time. After all, the standards don’t say, “get kids ready for college.”

    Moreover, the test does not really measure college readiness, other than maybe re: math. This test does, though: http://www.cae.org/content/pro_collegework.htm

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    She “didn’t write down your name”? Mr. Weinberg, that’s infuriating. These tests should exist for one purpose: To serve the children. And the same should certainly be true of everyone who works at the State Board of Education. Their job, and ours, is to do what’s right for our students. When the students’ needs take a backseat to protecting the integrity of the publisher’s product, there’s some weird, distorted perspective at play. We are the PUBLISHERS’ customers, not the other way around. Our customers are the children who attend our schools, and the parents who count on us to look out for them. So when anyone finds a mistake on the tests and takes the time to report it, it’s outrageous that threats of disciplinary action should even enter into the conversation.

  • Bones

    Gosh, you guys are just baiting me into this discussion more and more.

    Why is this a waste of time for teachers to argue about?

    Under the current system, the measure of a teacher’s effectiveness is not a test score, but the number of years that teacher has taught in Oakland Unified School District. This seems like a even more ridiculous measure to me of how good a teacher is, but I don’t hear any teachers complaining about this.

    Layoff and pay decisions are made based on SENIORITY, not based on TEST SCORES. Teachers are NOT held accountable to test results.

    How many teachers in their 3rd+ year have been fired because of test score performance? How many teachers have been fired because they are in their first or second year at Oakland Unified, regardless of how they have actually performed in the classroom? The second group is far larger than the first.

  • Nextset

    An interesting exchange on testing.

    I think the testing has gotten out of hand. We test too much. Testing at beginning of classes each school year and again at end of year should do it.

    I am on record as opposing tying pay to test scores. It creates an unreasonable incentive to work with the bright children and to shun the dulls. OUSD has a lot of dulls. We don’t need any additional disincentive to working with them.

    Beyond this I disagree testing dull students on any college prep material. They (dulls) should not be in OUSD to be force fed college prep. They need basic education and vocational/life-skill ed. If they do well there they will NOT; be in prison, dead, std infected, unable to drive, parents of children they can’t support or unemployed (which are in themselves are a form of testing).

  • Mom

    And then there is my daughter who does much better on essay tests that require critical thinking than on multiple choice fill in the bubble tests…. Thank goodness more and more colleges are going *Test Optional* and putting little or no emphasis on the SAT. The kid is great at assessing complex situations and planning, coordinating, and executing complex projects but admittedly terrible at those bubble tests.

    Admitting my bias because of the strengths that I see in my kid, do we really want *education* in this country to be defined by what can be easily tested via bubble tests? IMHO, we need a citizenry that can think critically about what they hear on talk radio, read in the Huffington Post or Wikipedia, watch on TV, or observe at a rally.

    A number of my student’s high performing friends who are burnt out from the SATs, AP exams, etc. are threatening to try to attain *Far Below Basic* scores on the CST. They don’t see the tests as impacting their personal futures. I am sure they are not the only kids in the state who blow off these tests. See Sharon @ 15 and Steve Weinberg @ 16.

  • Bones

    Is testing flawed? Yes. Nobody’s debating that. You keep on bringing it up as your whammy at the end of the argument.

    My thesis is that you’re missing the point with your argument: Steven Weinberg’s first sentence in this post is, “Many people wonder why teachers object so strongly to the use of standardized test results to evaluate their teaching.”

    Standardized tests are NOT being used to evaluate teaching. OUSD seniority is.

    With miniscule exception, teacher seniority is the only metric that is used in deciding whether teachers are hired, fired, or given raises.

    Teachers could be teaching students nothing and they could be scoring far below basic on every one of their exams and nothing would happen to them. Alternatively, you could have one of the most amazing teachers in the district who is only teaching in Oakland for her second year teacher (maybe she’s a young teacher, or maybe she’s a highly experienced teacher who just moved to the Bay Area). This teacher will be laid of next year because she hasn’t taught in Oakland Unified long enough.

    If you want to talk about unfair teacher evaluation practices, this is what the focus should be on.

  • Rene Tutor Doctor

    Testing is a four-letter word today, whereas in my days, it was the sine qua non of education, not only written tests, mostly essays; but also oral tests. And we were none the worse for it. I don’t think that I carried any scars from it during my life, which leads me to question the current argument over it in America. Let us support education and the budgets to pay for it for all children. I am personally more concerned about the opportunity for children to get a decent education than about whether they should be tested or not, a point on which I strongly favor testing as a measure of one’s success.