Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Testing (and what else has been on my mind)

I'm taking classes on American healthcare policy and urban poverty this semester and, as is often the case, you can reasonably expect that thinking a lot about these topics is going to color the direction of my blog a bit as ideas knock around in my head.  Be warned.

However, today what I want to talk about focuses a lot on education policy.  Specifically, test scores.  Obviously, with the GRE coming up, this topic has been floating around in my head for a while -- and finding out that several schools in the poorer areas of Richmond have been shut down or are in danger of being shut down for failure to meet standardized testing requirements definitely drove me to think about it some more.

I never really understood all the opposition to standardized testing.  I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I typically test well and, as such, never saw any harm in it.  Having family enter the teaching field, though, and watching teachers and professors struggle with standardized testing has made me think a lot about what can be measured by standardized testing.

It's always been a pet peeve of mine that SAT and other test-prep classes all seem to focus on "teaching the test" instead of teaching the material.  These classes consist largely of keywords and tricks to avoid actually knowing the materials being tested and instead to know what kind of people the test-writers are.  But that's the class you've signed up for.

However, and I see it in students I work with from time, when this becomes the role of teachers in the typical school setting, things slip through the cracks.  Instead of teaching the material and doing well on, say, the math section of the SAT because you know how to do the math, the job of math educators becomes teaching students to look for cues that an answer is wrong, many of which have nothing to do with the math itself.  And that gets to be dangerous.  It also de-legitimizes the testing process, because instead of quantifying how well something has been taught or learned, it quantifies how well you can game the system.

When did that become the point?

Qualitatively yours,
Rachel Leigh

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