A Few Thoughts for Pre-Service Teachers on Standards and Standardized Tests

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.

Hello All,

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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4 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts for Pre-Service Teachers on Standards and Standardized Tests”

  1. I am happy to hear you encourage this kind of conversation. For the last three years in my teacher education program, I have felt like a conversation about standardized testing has been avoided. I’m not looking to get into some kind of heated debate or anything, I would just like to know more about them. I’ve heard good and bad things about them, but I want to know how to handle them once I start teaching, regardless of whether of not I agree or disagree. Do I teach the content and not worry about the scores my students get? Are the scores going play a large role in the new teacher evaluation process? These are things I wish my methods professors would be open to discuss.

  2. Thanks, Chelsea, for engaging in a tough conversation about standardized tests and teacher evaluation. The ways trends are going now, yes, I am afraid that you will likely be in a generation of teachers evaluated by their students’ test scores (at least in part, if not in whole).

    So, I do think that you have to acknowledge the tests, and help students prepare to take those tests, yet that doesn’t have to take the form of some rote “test prep” curriculum with drill and kill exercise every day. Instead, think about how you can have your students interpret, synthesize, and evaluate the content that you are sharing with them in class as well as what they read and view outside of class. Show them — really dig in and show them — how to make sense of your content.

    For instance, in writing, I think that we can and should teach sentence combining and how to use transition words between ideas. But, I wouldn’t fixate on those two things along, and I wouldn’t do it with multiple choice quizzes. I would model for students how to write simple and then more complex sentences, and we would practice and revise these together.

    So, no, please do not obsess about the tests or the scores that your students will get. Acknowledge them, yes; obsess, no. Teach them your content and the processes for understanding that content, and that will help prepare them as well as any “test prep” curriculum.

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