Putting It to the Test

Vincent Avatar

There are these people who have this test that tells us how we compare to everyone else in school. These people are the US Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Statistics. Their test is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. It’s also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

There are actually a series of NAEP tests. One for each of the following subject areas: Civics, Economics, Geography, Mathematics, Reading, Science, US History, and Writing. The tests are given in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades.

The Institute of Educational Statistics is not the only organization that conducts national tests. Internationally, there is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They have the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Assessment is a fancy way of saying “multiple choice test with an essay question on the side.”

I know that sounds cynical but sometimes it’s how I feel.

In speaking to my wife and other parents about “good schools” one of the comments that always comes up is “School XYZ is a good school because their kids have high test scores.” And vice versa – “School ABC is a bad school because their kids have low test scores.” I always caution that we should examine what we mean about good and bad schools. Of course, I am then told that I am “not being realistic” and that our kids need high test scores to get into school.

While I will not argue that high test scores are a consideration schools make for acceptance, I will also argue that they are just one factor that schools look at. And that their weight often depends on the field of study the student wants to get into.

My sister sent me this excellent article from New York Magazine: The Swarm of College Super Applicants. In it, students from several prestigious New York City high schools have their profiles reviewed by a college recruiter who provides candid assessments of whether or not the students will get into their school of choice. In all instances, the students extracurricular activities are taken into account. In fact, in my opinion, the students’ test scores have less weight than their extracurricular activities.

In their response to “How Should Student Learning and Achievement be Measured” the American Psychological Association says that “no test is valid for all purposes” and that while there is nothing wrong with “large scale testing,” care should be taken to ensure that the test effectively measures what it is supposed to (nothing more, nothing less).

More poignant is Jonathan King’s observation. In his Edweek piece, “The High Stakes in Science Education,” he says high stakes testing is hurting science education because students become so fixated on “getting the right answer” they are losing the knack for experimentation. He recounts an incident in his classroom where his students are asked to draw what they observe and one student asks what should he draw. King responds, “Draw what you see.” To which the student asks, “But what should I see?”

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