Wondering What to Think About All These Tests?
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Questions For Your School Principal
- How are the tests changing the nature of teaching and learning at the school, either positively or negatively?
- Are classes spending long hours practicing test-taking skills and memorizing lists?
- If so, what is being sacrificed to make room for these test-prep activities?
- Does the school make use of test results to identify areas of the school that need improvement or to target support for certain students?
- What is the school or district doing about students who are consistently scoring below grade level on standardized tests?
- What is the school doing to address any disparities between test scores for particular groups of students?
By GreatSchools Staff
While the goals of accountability programs are certainly worthy, some believe that they are having an impact that is very different from the original intention.
The number one problem, many critics say, is that the tests themselves (especially the national, norm-referenced tests) are "dumbing down" the curriculum. Growing numbers of students, teachers and parents express concern that the increased emphasis on testing is encouraging a curriculum focused on rote learning and producing students who can respond to simple test questions but cannot think critically or apply their learning to new circumstances.
Indeed, it's not surprising to think that many parents would be concerned if the tests steer teachers towards a "checklist" approach to instruction, where the main goal is to ensure that students learn a list of required facts and skills. If you think back to powerful learning experiences you had in school, they probably didn't come while you were memorizing vocabulary words, but rather when you were pursuing something that excited you, whether it was the story of Cesar Chavez or a science project destined to change the world. It's important that schools don't sacrifice this kind of learning in the rush to increase test scores.
This concern is particularly relevant when the tests have important consequences, as in many states where passing a high school exit exam is a requirement for graduation.
Tests are Results, Not Causes
The requirement to report test results of groups of students, such as English- language learners or special education students, has highlighted achievement gaps that were disguised when school-wide results were the only ones reported. In their zeal to avoid the law's penalties, many schools and districts are focusing their school improvement efforts solely on raising the scores of these groups of students.
But recent research on successful schools highlighted by the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement suggests a more comprehensive approach to school improvement.
A trio of studies of schools where disadvantaged students succeed shows that these schools have high expectations for all students; use data to improve both student achievement and teaching; recruit, hire and support strong teachers; and have strong principal leadership.