State-Wide Testing, The Hoax of Tough Standards–It’s Time to Stop Testing

I wanted to write about our nations obsession with testing the daylights out of students in our schools, K-12 about a week ago, but got side-tracked by writing about climate change! Go figure. The State of Georgia released the results of its state-wide testing program, and the results showed that more than 25% of Georgia’s school population could be retained in the Fall (06) if they don’t pass the re-test that will be given this summer—of course the state invites the kids to “summer school” to get ready for the test. Isn’t this just great education.

The thing that is amazing is that you can go to the above website, and download a spread sheet of data for grades 1 – 8 and look over the mass of data for every school district in Georgia. What’s even more amazing is that people in the Department of Education believe this stuff. They think they are measuring student learning. And they’ve convinced parents and school officials that the data is the truth about student progress and learning. Sorry—hogwash.

Cathy Cox is the Superintendent of Education for the State of Georgia, and made public statements to the effect that the results showed improvement in some areas, such as science. Now this is the same education chief who wanted to ban “evolution” from the state curriculum. That’s right. She wanted to replace the concept of evolution with “biological changes overtime.” And she has a master’s degree in social studies from Emory University. So anything coming out of the Department of Education is immediatley suspect.

Why do we test to the extent that we do? Primarily to satisfy politician’s (Cox is a politician, not an educator in my view) claim that education standards need to be toughened. Another words, these people feel that “almost anything can be done to students and to schools, no matter how ill-considered, as long as it is done in the name of “raising standards” or ‘accountability.'” As Alfie Kohn suggests, “a plague has been sweeping through American schools, wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers and administrators. Ironically, that plague has been unleashed in the name of improving schools. Invoking such terms as “tougher standards,” “accountability,” and “raising the bar,” people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy-handed, top-down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country.

When I read about Georgia’s testing results, it was revolting to consider what would be happening to thousands of kids this summer, reporting to school to learn in a rote fashion so that they might pass the test, and make the state testers either satisfied or glum over the performance of Georgia’s students.

Would it make any difference if State wide tests were abolished? That is, would it mean that standards would dip because testing was eliminated? Would teachers teach any differently? Would students learn different things? You see, the implication is that State-wide standards (that’s another word for describing a school syllabus (of course for each subject and grade level). The implication is that you need to test to measure whether the standards are being met or not. That’s hogwash.

Teachers are the best judges of student progress, not a test. And to think that the public has accepted the idiotic concept that a single test (that’s right) is the best measure of how kids do in school. At a time when colleges and universities (some, granted) are moving away from using the SAT as part of its admission policy, states are falling all over one another to develop the “best” testing program to prove that its really improving education. Another hogwash.

For 32 years I was a professor at Georgia State University, and taught courses in science education and geology. When I first arrived I used tests as a way to measure my student’s progress, but soon realized that there were many other ways to determine student progress. After attending a conference among graduate students and geologists in the mountains of Colorado in 1972, I returned to GSU and threw out the curriculum I was using in an introductory geology course, and involved the students in developing a curriculum for them, and how they would progress in the course. In other courses, I abandoned tests, and replaced them with a variety of evaluation tools focused on student choice. I got away with this for the rest of my career at GSU. That’s right, no tests.

Whew. This quite a bit different than writing about climate change!

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.