Sarah McIntosh: The case against standardized testing

Published: Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.

In her June 17 Speaking Out, Patricia Levesque argues the case for standardized testing. Levesque's position as executive director for the Foundation for Florida's Future sounds authoritative.

Yet a look at the website for this foundation does not show that it is connected in an official capacity to the Florida Department of Education. And the site's 2012 Legislative Agenda shows its policies focus on an economic, marketplace agenda that sees "knowledge as a coveted commodity."

Levesque addresses some concerns surrounding the FCAT and asks and gives her own answers to three questions.

Levesque's first query is "Are higher standards a good thing? Yes." She then praises Florida's adoption of the "Common Core Standards" which she asserts are "new and improved ... better for our students, because they are benchmarked with the top-performing countries of the world."

In the scope of Levesque's short column the "Common Core Standards" cannot be detailed in depth, but a review of these standards shows they are no different than those that have been in place for years, and it is unclear how testing for these standards will be appreciably different from the FCAT.

Levesque second question: "Is testing beneficial to student learning? Yes"

She states "As a mother, I want my children to be tested, so I know how they are doing."

Not to deny Levesque's care for her own children, but her contention that the elimination of standardized testing would mean having no "standard annual information for how well our children are being prepared for success in the future" doesn't correlate to the idea that parents, in conjunction with teachers and other professionals involved with a child's progress, should have a reasonable sense of a child's ability to read, write, compute, and most importantly process information and think independently.

While testing may be a beneficial measurement used by administrators and politicians to decide funding for schools, it does not measure what students actually learn and take with them into continuing learning and work experiences. Getting students excited about, or even aware of, some subjects can be difficult at best, but when teachers don't have the opportunity to use their teaching expertise to develop a curriculum suited to a particular class group or student and have to teach to the standards of a specific test, they are not being given the respect they deserve as educational professionals.

Levesque cites statistics that do not provide the full context for rating educational progress and that don't clearly show how standardized testing actually makes a difference. She states that in the eight years before Florida began using a statewide test to assess student learning, graduation rates declined by nearly 7 percent. However, the National Center for Educational Statistics on the U.S. Department of Education website shows that Florida's graduation rates increased yearly from 1980-81 to 2009-10, for an overall total increase of 35 percent.

Finally Levesque asks "Is there too much testing? Maybe." She argues that testing in some districts goes far beyond state requirements and asks these districts to "reexamine the need for additional local tests."

This argument discounts the state emphasis on the FCAT and how much class time is taken to prepare for this test, maybe even through more testing at a local level.

Levesque blames school boards for wasting time passing resolutions against the FCAT and suggests that a "better focus of energy would be on informing parents ... what district and state leaders are doing to make sure teachers have the resources to teach the new standards."

A test by any other name is still a test, and it might behoove her to ask who really benefits by standardized testing. Instead of praising the shift from the FCAT to the "Common Core Standards," it would be useful to consider whether standardized tests are an accurate measure at all.

I agree that there needs to be a way to measure student progress and evaluate academic standards, and there is a place for testing. But progress for schools and students should be measured by students' ability to understand connections between ideas and subjects and to question and consider variables and other possible perspectives.

Students are not a commodity to be marketed, nor is knowledge. If students in Florida are to be "aligned to college and workforce expectations" and "benchmarked with the top-performing countries in the world," the real test will be how our students can effectively articulate ideas, both conversationally and in writing with their peers and future employers across America and around the world.

Sarah McIntosh is an educator who lives in Archer.

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