Thursday, March 28, 2013

Suspend Tests, Not Students

California plans to suspend some of its standardized testing for certain grade levels while it develops new computerized exams for the Common Core Standards (CCS). The plan is projected to save the state $15 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

While the temporary suspension of tests will be a welcome respite for the minority of teachers and students affected by the plan, it will do nothing to improve education funding since the implementation of CCS is projected to cost well over $1 billion. Additionally, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson has asked the state Board of Education to use the savings for developing higher-quality tests linked to the CCS, leaving little, if any, of the $15 million for hiring teachers, giving raises, buying classroom supplies or any of the myriad other needs of California’s schools.

The new tests are being touted as something that will foster critical thinking and sophisticated reading and writing skills. However, it is unlikely they will improve learning outcomes any better than any of the previous tests because all tests merely assess—they do not teach students anything. Furthermore, the new tests will be just as high stakes as the previous tests, thus perpetuating test anxiety, student stress and disillusionment with learning, and teaching to the test.

Torlakson said, “These new assessments will provide our schools with a way to measure how ready students are for the challenges of a changing world.” While this might be desirable for technocrats and their investor benefactors who expect to profit from the test results by selling snake oil remedies like digital learning aids, textbooks, tutors, and charter schools, it will do little to actually make students more ready for these challenges, let alone prepare them to be critical members of society with the skills and courage to challenge its injustices.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the fact that virtually all academic assessments correlate more strongly with students’ socioeconomic backgrounds than any other factor, including the quality of their schools and teachers. Therefore, simply implementing new tests, no matter how good they are, while continuing to underfund the schools and ignore students’ poverty, will not change the results. At the end of the day, reformers and critics of public education will still be able to complain that too many students are failing to meet academic expectations.

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