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It’s California Standardized Testing Time Again

The public schools are conducting the CST tests again.  It’s going on in second through eleventh grades, and kids are feeling the pressure.

Each year around this time, the schools start sending emails and notices reminding us to make sure our kids get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast before school. If we didn’t ordinarily do that for the sake of our kids’ education, why would we do it now?

testfear1The students have been spending a lot of time in the last few weeks studying for this exam.  They’ve spent class time and homework time reviewing material that they’ve studied in past years so that they’ll do well on those portions of the tests.

I send my kids to school so they can get an education. But for a few weeks every year they stop the teaching and focus on the testing. Now, I understand that tests are a part of education.  You learn something and then take a test. If you do well on the test, you’ve learned the material.  If not, you have more work to do.  This is not what the standardized tests are about.

The standardized tests also cover material that kids learned last year or the year before.  Is reviewing this material beneficial to the students?  Well, I know that I’ve forgotten some of the things I learned in school. Everyone does.  Is it worth the time to re-learn it so that you can keep all those facts in your head? In most cases I think the answer is no. And the fact that schools don’t review old material (except to bring kids back up to speed after summer break) seems to bear that out.

The schools are putting so much emphasis on these tests that some kids are stressed out about it. They don’t get this worked up about final exams. I’ve had a child cry before school on testing days because they were so worried about doing well. The material they’re being tested on is different from the curriculum that they are studying in their classes, and the results have nothing to do with the grades they receive this trimester.

Schools have been accused of ‘teaching to the test’.  This means that they teach the materials that will be on the test in a way that maximizes the probability that the kids will fill in the right bubble when it’s time.  (They even received instruction this week on how to properly fill in the bubble!)  Is this what the kids should be learning in order to be successful in life?

Why are they doing all of this?  So the school’s test scores will look good. Schools are judged by their average test scores, and the schools will do whatever they can to improve those scores.  Including lean on the students.

If these tests are meant to measure how well the school teaches, let the kids take the test with no pressure.  If they know the material, they’ll get the answers right.  If they don’t, we’ll know where the school needs to improve.

But with schools essentially competing against each other, they have to do whatever they can to improve their results.

examI’ve recently learned that I’m not the only parent who hates these tests.  I’ve grumbled about it for years, but never done anything about it or even objected to the school.  A lot of parents are objecting in a meaningful way.  They’re pulling their kids out of the tests.

But then how do we measure the school’s performance?  It is to everyone’s benefit to learn which schools are not educating our children well.  And even for schools that are doing well, what are the weak areas that they should work on? Of course after they get the results, they need to take a common sense look at why under-performing schools aren’t doing well.  For example, there are some schools in Orange County that serve many motel families. These kids move around a lot and have bigger issues in their lives than studying. But the state sees the low test scores and sends the teachers for more training.  That’s not going to fix the problem because that’s not the source of the trouble. But I digress. How to measure the schools without the overly competitive environment?  Wouldn’t it be great if someone who didn’t have a stake in the outcome could administer the test?