Could I be Sorry to see a Test Go?

A little more sleep and a little less cramming may be in store for students next year if lawmakers decide to get rid of some standardized tests.

Flickr Photo by Lauren Brown

That’s the opening line of a 27 May Raleigh News & Observer story, Student Testing Might be Reduced.  Our new governor, Beverly Perdue, recently proposed that the legislature “dump” all state tests that are not required for high school graduation or by federal law.

According to the article, the NC Senate proposes that five high school subject area tests would go — Algebra II, geometry, chemistry, physics, and physical science.  These are subjects that are not required for graduation.  U.S. History stays, since all NC high school students are required to take that subject (not world history, an issue of recent discusson with some Canadian educator friends).

I’m sorry that U.S. History will continue to be tested.  I suspect that it is one of the main reasons that my daughter decided not to become a history teacher.  She wanted to teach history, not prepare teenagers for a test.  She said that they were not the same thing.

Also to be “dumped” is our state’s Computer Skills Test.  To my knowledge, North Carolina was the first state to mandate testing of computer skills and to tie high school graduation to the passage of that test. 

I never liked the test.  I like to say that it was when the state announced the required computer skills test that I left the agency.  But it was purely coincidence. 

There are two reasons why I disliked the test. 

  1. Middle school computers became monopolized by efforts to prepare students for the test, rather than making authentic use of the technology for learning.
  2. Though they did a descent job with the test itself, including both knowledge and performance skills, I suspect that most technologists employed in Research Triangle Park, just north of Raleigh, would have failed the test.  Solving problems with computers is about inventing solutions, not memorizing them.

The plus side of the test was that school boards and superintendents bought a lot of computers for their middles schools and kept buying them.  My hope is that we are reaching a tipping point where learning in our schools in the 21st century is best and most reasonably done with networked, digital, and abundant content.

Read the article for more on the debate.  But Angela Quick, the deputy academic officer for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is quoted as saying,

In an era when students will be competing with people around the world for jobs in science, technology and engineering, it makes sense to know how much students have learned about those subjectsuty chief academic officer of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is quoted as saying.

Another state education official said,

The tests help standardize the statewide curriculum and make sure students are taught the same material no matter where they go to school.

I have no real objection to either of these statements except for what I have often say.  In a time of rapid change, the value that we bring to our endeavors will not come so much from what we know that is the same as other people.  It will come from what we know and how we think that is different.  We have to ensure that all students graduate with a common context for their world and their future.  But it is just as important that our graduates are able to resourcefully make themselves experts, and be able to adapt and innovate.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.