Standardized Test = Learning? Really?

Whenever you have lots of change in a short amount of time — it is impossible to deeply think about what impact all of this change is having on the system.  In Ohio, we have had so much education legislation recently teachers and administrators have been stuck on the “wash cycle” without much of a chance to really consider if what they are doing is actually having a positive impact.  Has anyone really considered if the “game-plan” in Ohio is the right formula for student success long-term?

Consider the three main categories of educational reform in Ohio. We have convinced ourselves that if we do these three things with fidelity we will see dramatic results.

1.  Improve the Quality of the school as measured by test scores reported to communities by grading        or labeling schools either good or bad;

2.  Improve the Quality of Teachers as measured by new teacher evaluations that focus on test scores      of students to judge teacher performance; and

3.  Implement a “new: Curriculum A.K.A Common Core measured with new “next generation” of            test.

The core belief is the above areas will close the achievement gap, improve student achievement, increase graduation rates, close down failing schools, remove incompetent teachers, and dramatically increase the number of College and Career Ready Students.

The key ingredient to this recipe is testing and lots of it at all grade levels.  We all know what happens when you have too much of one ingredient in a recipe….it just doesn’t taste good!  But we have a heavy dosage of testing that drives this reform movement in the name of increased student performance.

I am not so sure I subscribe to this belief around if we do the three things mentioned above student learning will improve?

I believe the reformers are correct.  Our achievement on standardized test will most certainly improve  — at the expense of real deep learning of concepts and skills.

Did you hear that?  Yes — student achievement  on standardized test will improve.  I am not sure learning will improve.

We make the mistake of thinking performance on a standardized test equals learning….but we as teachers and administrators know how to improve test scores with “tricks of the trade” so to speak. We can teach kids how to take test…teach them techniques that will improve achievement on standardized test which has nothing to do with truly learning the concepts and skills.

Research study after research study has proven time and time again that standardized test measure socioeconomic status first and foremost.  Take any state in the union and look at the performance on standardized test and the individual student scores will line up perfectly with family income.  When will we stop using this as a metric to grade schools, teachers, and administrators?  It is just not fair and it is not an accurate measurement of teachers or schools.

Learning…real deep learning and understanding cannot nor will it ever be measured via a standardized test.  Kids are more complicated thinkers than the test designers.  We know kids learn best when they are given the opportunity to work with concepts, teach it to each other, process complicated problems,work in groups, all of which takes time.  Time that is not afforded to teachers or schools when that time is dominated by getting ready for the test, taking the test, and then preparing for the next test that is used to measure me as your teacher, determine if kids get to advance a grade level or graduate as well as your school and district.

I want schools that put a premium on learning, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity.  I really don’t want schools who look like and act like test-prep centers only doing what is needed to be done to be successful on standardized test.  Our kids deserve better and the “play-book” in Ohio is a loser for kids and a loser for learning.


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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One Response to Standardized Test = Learning? Really?

  1. Pingback: Standardized Test = Learning? Really? | jherrholtz

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