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.

4 thoughts on “Could I be Sorry to see a Test Go?”

  1. I’ve also been an educator in NC, and I have mixed feelings about reducing testing. I think testing is abused in many classrooms that teach only to the test, however having taught an EOC class, it was also nice to have tangible end goal to motivate students around. That being said, in my experience many students had the false sense of security that if they could pass these basic skills test they were set up for success in high school and beyond, regardless of their attitude, behavior or academic performance outside of testing day. I think eliminating testing also unfortunately makes it easier for schools, administrators and teachers to push low-performers through the system without these students ever mastering content.

    I loved your point that, “Solving problems with computers is about inventing solutions, not memorizing them.” It will be interesting to see what shakes out in our home state.

  2. Shouldn’t we be redesigning our assessments to show what we really value – The ability to problem solve and reason? Just judging by the the culture at my school we are all burned out and worn down after getting students through two weeks of testing and now working on remediation and retesting. My only problem with our tests is that they aren’t truly functional. They don’t tell us much about our students. I’ve always said real life is not a multiple choice proposition. But with the economy the way it is I don’t see much change on the horizon because it still is the cheapest means of accountability. Dropping tests may be a financial decision, but shouldn’t we use the opportunity to redesign assessments that are functional and formative? I’ve said my peace about testing on the Teach21 Bolton blog – Thanks for adding to my perspective with this post.

  3. David thanks for your thoughts on this topic. As a high school teacher I agree with your assessment that computers are often being used to prepare students for test rather than for learning. Many times I find that teachers use computers to help student’s complete assignments on concepts that will be covered on standardized tests. Teachers instead need to teach students how to correctly use technology to research information on topics, as well has how to use technology to help them solve problems. We as educators also need to incorporate blogs and podcasts in order to help our students learn better and communicate with each other more efficiently.
    Too many times we as educators get so hung up on test results that we forget to teach students how to think for themselves, communicate with each other, and problem solve. Thanks for your thoughts and helping me think about what I can do to improve my students learning.

  4. david- as a high school us history teacher in nc, i couldn’t agree more with you. the us history eoc test doesn’t test problem solving skills, it doesn’t test 21st century skills, it tests the ability of high school students to answer us history trivia questions in a multiple choice format.
    while i agree with amy, that eoc tests do provide a framework for teachers and students to act within, i don’t think the us history test is a fair test. i also don’t think that the knowledge it pretends to test is knowledge every american should have. it doesn’t test citizenship skills. it doesn’t test “common knowledge.” it doesn’t test the abilities of students with regard to lateral thinking.
    our state can do better. getting rid of some of these tests is a start. i’m not arguing that we get rid of all of them, or that we even get rid of any of them. i think there has to be some way of assessing how our students are doing. i just think there has to be a better way. a test of trivial knowledge is not the way.

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