In defense of standardized testing

In the education world it seems that standardized testing has as many defenders as Alex Rodriguez or Lance Armstrong. However, standardized testing actually got some props recently in articles at in Washington Post and the Huffington Post that focused on how standardized testing can be an important tool to improve our nation’s schools if used correctly. These articles are good reminders of why there has been such a focus on standardized testing over the past couple decades.

Yet, we know that standardized testing is not perfect. But policymakers, researchers, and educators continue to evaluate their use and revise them when necessary. There is certainly room for debate about the proper role of standardized testing but for that debate to lead to any significant improvements it needs to be based on facts and not false assumptions on how standardized tests are currently used.

Justin Fong proposed on his blog Fongalong recently that state testing should be moved from the spring to fall to lessen the reliance on standardized testing. Fong is certainly not anti-testing but has some valid concerns that the tests can have a more positive impact if given within the first couple weeks of the start of school. His suggestions are reasonable but many are based on false or outdated assumptions about standardized testing.

Fong believes:

Teachers should be using test results for diagnostic purposes and spring tests do not provide that information

Most states and many districts are already using testing data for diagnostic purposes even with spring testing.  Which is why PARCC, Smarter Balance and a number of state and districts assessments come with formative assessments for this sole purpose. These assessments are specifically designed to provide the data the author argues teachers need to align their instruction to their students’ needs. However, formative assessments should not be used for accountability purposes as it could negatively affect their value as a diagnostic tool.

Fall testing would enable teachers to focus on good instruction instead of ‘test prep’

Narrowly focusing instruction on ‘test prep’ is unlikely to end just by changing when the tests are administered.  To ensure all schools provide high-quality instruction, every school should be led by an effective school principal who is a strong instructional leader and can provide the support teachers need. Unfortunately, there are too many unprepared principals that see ‘test prep’ as the only means to improve test scores.

Good teaching is currently only judged by how much teachers increase test scores

It is absolutely true good teaching is more than simply improving standardized test scores. In fact, every current teacher evaluation system is designed with that fact in mind. However, improving student achievement—which is best measured by standardized tests–is at the heart of good teaching and should be a major factor in how teachers are evaluated when possible.

  • Contrary to Fong’s implicit assumption, no teacher is based solely on test scores. In fact, there is no state where more than half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on a single standardized test score.
  • Furthermore, every state that requires teachers to be evaluated based in part on standardized test scores also evaluates teachers based on other factors like the quality of their instruction, how engaged their students are, their professionalism, and how they expand their students’ minds and knowledge. So teachers are being evaluated holistically and not just on how well their students do on standardized tests. – Jim Hull

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.