Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NCLB Politics – Part IV (or Common Core Standards – Part I)

     I have nothing against standardized tests.  They're tools like any other tool—a gun, hammer, knife, or saw—and can be used both appropriately and inappropriately.
     That said, I think it's a huge mistake to use standardized test scores to grade primary and secondary schools or teachers based on arbitrary cutoff measures of supposed minimum levels of student proficiency or academic achievement because standardized tests do not measure such things, what they do approximately measure is each student's ability to take standardized tests.  And that's about it.
     I have had numerous friends, relatives, and acquaintances that were ninety-plus percentile whizzes at these tests who did mediocre to horrible in classes and ended up with run-of-the-mill jobs and careers.  Conversely, many academic super-stars and/or those with thriving careers had been very undistinguished standardized test takers.  The problem with these tests are their narrow subject matter focuses and scopes, with over-emphasis on memorization and simple one-way-to-solve problems.  Complexity; human factors; individual creativity, compassion, communicative ability, social skills, motivation, perseverance, confidence, shortcomings, irritations, dysfunctions, morals, appearances, perceptions, social acceptance, family and other connections, frailties, desires, feelings, aptitude, attitudes, upbringing, and personality; the general social, political, and economic environments; local politics and interactions; and all other “soft” factors are virtually excluded from these tests simply because they are too difficult to measure objectively.  Yet these are the very types of real world problems, opportunities, situations, responses, and interactions that most determine probable future success of students in school, work, and life in general.
     In other words, predicting a student's success in school or life is far too complex to reduce to simple, straight-forward fill-in-the-bubbles or scroll-and-click there's-only-one-correct-answer per question standardized multiple-choice tests.
     According to various studies, employers make decisions within the first fifteen seconds of each candidate's employment interview (obviously unconcerned about computer generated test scores plotted on comparative scales).  Further, success at work (one hopes) depends mainly on productivity (including working well with others and learning on-the-job), not standardized test-taking ability.
     In my opinion, the main and perhaps only usefulness of these standardized tests might be in screening outliers—ultra high and ultra low scorers.  The former may be whizzes in other academic pursuits, but then again, maybe not.  Conversely, the latter may indicate extreme problems in comprehension or motivation.  (A bright, wise, and compassionate adult friend of mine with an excellent work ethic and respectable career said that as a child he used to fill in the bubbles of standardized tests to create pretty patterns—zigzags, checkerboards, etc.  I'm sure he could have scored within “normal range”--however that is defined—but just didn't care.  Healthy, normal kids will act out at times, balking at mindless repetitive hypothetical after hypothetical question, or artificial comparison after artificial comparison construct.  “In the long run, who cares?" may be their understandable response.  “It's just a number on a sheet of paper.  It's not who I am or what I'm capable of or what I'm worth.” 
     Indeed, careers are not made or broken based on such test scores as the average person goes through greater than ten job and a few career changes in a lifetime and prospective employers don't ask to see or talk about them.  (The only times I was asked to provide them were on college or scholarship applications.)
     Yet, standardized tests continue relentless for my kids who take from one to four such tests (reading, math, or science) two to four times a year (sometimes taking the same test thrice), totaling two to eight tests per child, a few hours each.  This doesn't even include on-line IXL math and Kidsbiz reading assignments (practice tests) of about two each per week.  So many hours on these that might have been better spent on productive, engaged learning—especially hands-on activities such as science experiments, PE, art, or field trips.
     In an earlier essay titled NCLB Politics – Part I, I said I looked forward to NCLB's repeal.  Yet, though this has in essence happened via a waiver granted to Hawaii and forty-four other states for adopting common core standards—required to obtain access to billions of federal Race-to-the-Top grant dollars, the high-stakes testing continues and will probably be expanded, resulting in possibly even more tests of greater difficulty.  Things for my children—as far as frequency and intensity of these standardized tests go—have not improved.  Neither has their curricula changed from memorized word lists, Kidsbiz, IXL, and other teaching-to-the tests techniques.  Alas, to date, common core standards appears indistinguishable from NCLB and my kids continue to suffer as a result.

No comments:

Post a Comment