No other issue in education is as poorly understood as testing. And no aspect of testing is more controversial than standardized tests. That’s why it’s ironic that on the same day as schools in New York State were administering standardized math exams, the state Assembly passed legislation to bar the results of such tests as part of the teacher and principal evaluation process (“State Assembly passes bill to stop schools from linking student test scores to teacher evaluations,” New York Daily News, May 2).
If I had not taught for 28 years, I would be totally opposed to the action. After all, shouldn’t effective instruction be reflected in how students perform on a test? But that view is based on the assumption that all tests are created equal. The fact is that tests are measuring instruments. How they are designed largely determines student outcomes.
Most standardized tests are created to allow students to be ranked. If test makers loaded up their instruments with the most important material taught effectively by teachers, scores would likely be bunched together, making comparisons difficult. To avoid that possibility, the tests contain items that have been shown in the past to produce score spread. I call those trick questions. It’s unfair, but it produces the desired outcomes.
A far better use of standardized tests is for diagnostic purposes. I believe teachers would welcome the results as a way of providing them with invaluable feedback. Finland, which is known for the quality of its schools, uses that approach. It does not name and shame schools, treating test scores confidentially. I realize that many people will view this suggestion as an excuse for poor instruction. But I submit it’s worth a try. That’s why I’m not opposed to what New York State has done.
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