This week, a colleague invited me to share some brief thoughts about standards and standardized testing with her preservice teachers in a private discussion forum for her class. I composed this quickly, but I hope that it has something to say for those of us who are interested in teaching writing, authentic writing, and substantive and reflective ways.
Prof V. invited me to join in this conversation last week, and I apologize for getting here a bit late. You all certainly hit on a number of the major pros and cons related to standardized testing and I don’t have too much more to say about what you have already covered. I do, however, want to raise two important points about how standardized tests have come to be used and what the implications are for the PARCC and SMARTER Balanced assessments that will be coming out in the near future.
First, it is fairly well documented that standardized tests have little to do with student achievement and much more to with poverty levels, social class, and the ways in which our children are conditioned for school. One outspoken critic of standardized tests, Alfie Kohn, offers a variety of examples of how more privileged and, for the most part, white students perform much better on these tests than their minority counterparts. This allows politicians and corporate education reformers to keep pushing for “higher standards” and “market-based reforms.” Other critics, such as Diane Ravitch, have been able to clearly make the case for how such reforms are thinly veiled attempt to keep the status quo in place. In other words, standardized tests help perpetuate social inequality.
Second, in relation to the new writing standards that are in the common core and the computer adaptive testing that will be a part of PARCC and SMARTER Balanced, you need to understand that these tests are not about writing. Again, in their efforts to find a scientifically based way to judge students’ performance, writing ability will be measured by an elaborate grammar checker, otherwise known as “computerized scoring.” This is big business for both corporations and politicians, and will have detrimental effects on schools and, more importantly, on the students who are trying to learn how to write.
I was on a panel last fall where we talked about a number of issues related to corporate style reform, and I encourage you to check out our wiki to find more resources that can help you better understand the effects of standardized testing and how you might offer alternative types of assessments for your students. In fact, that’s the conversation I would encourage you to have now. What are our other options? How might we use assessment in thoughtful, productive ways to encourage our students to reflect on their work and set higher goals? How can we get out of the debate about standardized testing and move into a conversation about authentic assessment?
Dr. Troy Hicks
Central Michigan University
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