Sunday, September 22, 2013

Standardized Tests: The Movable Target?

A couple of weeks ago, a Washington Post article stated, “Reading scores for the Virginia Standards of Learning test dropped by double digits following the introduction of a new, more rigorous exam this past year.

A couple of years’ ago, it was Virginia’s math scores that dropped as a result of newer, more rigorous standards.

Meanwhile D.C. Public School students made impressive gains in math and reading tests, but math officials reported that the gains were in part tied to the division’s decision to “score the tests in a way that yielded higher scores even though D.C. students got fewer math questions correct than in the year before.”

Virginia and D.C. are by no means alone as they try to balance tougher standards with consistent scoring. In 2012, seeing scores plummet, Florida state education officials decided to lower the passing cut rate/grade. A couple of months ago, the debate played out again with the Florida State Board of Education again voting to prevent school grades from dropping more than one letter grade. Even Board Member Kathleen Shanahan, who was a driving force behind the school grading system that “served as a model for other states,” commented, “I am struggling with the integrity of the accountability system…and the reliability of grades.”

As the debate plays out amongst politicians and state boards of education, it is teachers and students who are caught in the middle.

Should standardized tests enable educators to compare student performance from year to year? Yes.

On the other hand, standardized tests should challenge all students. But, at what expense? In Virginia, the more rigorous tests and scoring resulted in significantly lower student scores. State officials talked up the results as a temporary price to pay as Virginia shifted to higher standards.

But who paid the price? Students. Students, who in essence served as guinea pigs, and as a result may not earn and Advanced Diploma or even a Standard Diploma.   

Like too many classroom grading systems, proficiency on state tests seems immeasurable and perpetually alterable based on the whims of a few elected or appointed officials. Instead of being based on teacher instruction and student learning, passing rates and standardized testing have become politicized (the consequences range from the grade the school receives, to funding, to accreditation,  to employment decisions, to student graduation) while failing to galvanize meaningful educational reform.

We cannot expect our teachers and students to hit a moving target.

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