Graduate Admissions Blog

Opting out of standardized tests

Standardized testing is a major point of controversy in schools across the country. We have covered some of the issues surrounding this subject on the blog before, but now that tests are happening in schools, it seems like a good time to bring it up again. We recently had a discussion about this in my conference group, where all of us have noticed how the schools we are placed at are approaching test prep. From our discussion and from my own experience in a Connecticut magnet school, there are a range of policies in place for schools when it comes to the test prep. One school I worked for focused on the state tests all year through bubble sheet practices and written response strategies. More recently, I have seen test taking strategies reviewed in the week or days before the test. This time allotment seems to indicate the priority test taking has for the school.

As it happens, the school where I am doing my supervised field work has been making headlines in the local news. Almost two thirds of the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders there have had their parents opt them out of taking the tests. The school has caught the eye of Diane Ravtich’s blog; her name is very familiar to students at Bank Street for being against standardized testing along with an anti-charter school stance. Two of her books, Reign of Error and The Death and Life of the Great American School Systembeing required reading for our foundations course. Ravitch is an outspoken critic of the common core as well.

One of the concerns of opting out for some parents was that the lack of a test score in their record may keep them from being accepted to a middle school of their choice. However, the parents of one fourth grader mentioned in a recent New York Times article that a lack of scores would not affect their child’s acceptance. How was this misinformation about school choice spread?

Certainly, there is a kernel of truth to the common core in the sense that all students should be held to clearly defined and high standards. However, the overwhelming concern about tying student achievment to school and teacher rankings and implementation seems to outweigh any glimmer of positivity for it’s critics. How can we guarantee students a good public education without some agreement on what should be taught and a way to measure progress? The implementation and reliance on mass-produced and questionably valid standardized tests has educators worried – and in some cases angry. Personally, I get the sense that policy makers and politicians are too involved in education despite knowing little about it. Education is a personal, emotional, local, and controversial facet of American life and is often a scapegoat for many of our societal problems – so those in power make a name for themselves by ‘reforming’ education which looks good on paper but causes all kinds of frustrations and regressions in practice. From No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top, a competitive, punitive mentality is creeping into how we fund and assess schools.

I’m hoping for some input from readers in the comments section about their experience with the state tests this year – how has your school / students / own child been affected? What are your thoughts on a better way to ensure schools are doing their jobs? What larger implications are at play?