Much Of Required School Testing Is Off Base - And Response (3)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tennessee Education Commissioner and former staff member of Teach for America, Kevin Huffman is apparently worried that comments by a staff member of the local newspaper may sway the public against his policies in Nashville. A local writer challenged the concept of high-stakes standardized testing and the new commissioner felt moved to respond. 

One of Huffman's arguments was that the writer should have known more about his subject. Having been an educator in Tennessee for 40 years in both public and private school, with 14 of those years as an administrator, I know something about standardized testing.

Huffman claims only one percent of school time is spent on standardized testing and that is not all together accurate. Perhaps the actual administration of the test takes up that much time, but add in the writing assessment, the practice testing and the many hours of test preparation and that equals more than one percent. Huffman should have done a little research and some math application here. 

Next Huffman challenged the staffer to come up with something better. I can. The criterion-referenced assessment portion of T-CAP offers far more information to the classroom teacher than the standardized portion from which the expensive studies often quote. That part of the exam tests individual skills needed to do work on the grade level tested. It further shows mastery, partial mastery or non-mastery. A classroom teacher armed with this information knows what a student can and can't do and can prepare instruction to remediate non-mastered skills. Thus no need for the lengthy standardized portion.

Since many of the standardized tests are created by the textbook publishers, I see a conflict of interest in the way they are constructed. I also see a problem with the test services offering different levels of reliability in the tests themselves as the more reliable ones cost more. Tennessee, I have been told, uses the less expensive tests where Florida uses the more reliable, expensive ones. Further problems include teacher summaries being inaccurate as two of my teachers at Ooltewah Intermediate School were listed as mastery and non-mastery on probability when no probability questions were on the test that year. Some schools got scores of students not in their school and some scores of their students were left off.

In 2001, at a meeting of Hamilton County School administrators with the then executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education, I questioned him about the reliability of the T-CAP test since most of the budget of the schools were being driven by this test. I am still waiting on the answer.

My conclusion is much of this testing is about money and adult issues. I also question the need to put students and teachers through such a grueling experience when pre-testing and post-testing on important skills can occur with much less pressure and more reliability throughout the year. 

Ralph Miller

* * * 

School testing can be of great benefit or it can be a waste of time. Like many coaches have said, we have to get back to the basics. For about 25 years I operated a small business and had my share of new high school graduates ask if there was an opening and could they fill out an application. I was amazed at the number of applications I could not read and those I could read a number had terrible spelling. These were graduates of our high schools.  

A couple years ago one of the large manufacturing manager was quoted on the front page of the CTFP that it was hard to find entry level employees because they couldn't pass a eighth/ninth grade grade math test. My question then and now has always been, how did they graduate or did they just get moved out of school.  An amazing thing about the CTFP story, the local educators have been as quiet as a church mouse. 

My suggestion would be develop a test for all subjects based on what a senior should know, math, spelling, current events, etc. After testing publish the test and grades. Maybe the CTFP could publish spelling words, math problems, current events, etc. for grade level so the parents could test their kids to see how much they have accomplished.

N. D. Kennedy Sr.

* * * 

While school budgets dwindle and the federal government micro-manages neighborhood schools (with "No Child Left Behind"), there are numerous methods of teaching kids to test better. Public education will never fulfill its intended mandate while the emphasis of the educational system enforces the "lowest common denominator" approach, which all schools and standardized testing is geared toward. 

Every classroom and educator must, by design, advance at the speed of the student with the lowest scores. Even magnet schools. No parent wants their kids to "ride the short bus" but is unwilling or unable to help fund special attention to more needy students. This is why the proliferation of private, parochial and home schooling isn't just growing, it's exploding. 

Standardized testing will not fix a bent system. However, things can be done to improve testing scores. Early educators can help students figure out what the test wants to know, how it's structured (or rigged). For example, something as simple as consistently reading the entire test from start to finish before marking a single answer is an absolute necessity. Many of the answers to early questions can be found in subsequent questions. Test scores can be bettered by (my estimate) 10 percent or greater just understanding the construction of the test. In the long run it will help a student master the course material because better scores motivate any student who was convinced he just can't do any better. 

In the classroom - students should spend time attempting to understand what the instructor is looking for; do they test on class content of textbook reading, the amount of testing done on sub-texts and footnotes. Figuring out the teacher is almost as important as the course content when it comes to better scores. 

If standardized testing is an "evil" our kids must tolerate, at least give them a fighting chance by instructing them how to "read" a teacher, how to take a test, understand what individual teachers prefer to test on and not just constantly dwell on subject content. This training should start in early grade school and into Middle School. These test-taking skills will pay off handsomely now and down the road. 

David D. Fihn 

* * * 

Mr. Fihn, 

The school budgets are not dwindling.  To have a dwindling budget the budget must be decreasing.  By state law school districts budgets cannot be less than the previous year.  Therefore the budgets are not dwindling but are consistently increasing.  

Now what the school boards do with the money they have access to is a very good question that should be asked of the members of the various schools boards.   

Wesley Garner
Cowan, Tn.

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