• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Testing Woes

New York State decided this year that they would substantially raise the standards for passing the elementary and middle school state mandated examinations.

October 6, 2013

New York State decided this year that they would substantially raise the standards for passing the elementary and middle school state mandated examinations.  The orientation of the exams was also changed to incorporate the common core learning standards at the same time that the standards were first being implemented.  Not surprisingly, a much larger percentage of students did not pass throughout the state and consequently we now have a major public outcry and backlash against testing.

If the scores required for passing standardized examinations are too low, no one would argue against raising the standards.  But if the standards are being raised dramatically, serious consideration should be given to phasing in the increase. The most important reason for a phase-in is the detrimental impact of dramatically raising standards on the students in our schools state wide.  Instantly dramatically raising standards and instantly dramatically increasing the percentage of students failing seriously undermines the confidence and self-esteem of the students who have gone from comfortably passing to seriously failing.  Since it clearly was the state’s fault that the standards were too low, the state should at the very least build in the time necessary for the adjustment to higher standards.  Instead of one year to totally revise standards, why not three years so that everyone has a chance to adjust over time.

The same period of adjustment should be built in for the transition to the common core.  There are benefits inherent in having a common core, which is a common body of knowledge that every person should be exposed to as part of his or her education. If tests aren’t based on the common core, they certainly should be changed.  But once again, it is all a question of how it is done. A test based on the common core should under any conditions follow the full implementation of the core.

My emails during the past week and the most recent meeting of the school board (which are public meetings) dealt overwhelmingly with testing and the overemphasis on test preparation.  The public is clearly concerned and the reaction goes from there should be no testing in schools, to there should be responsible testing, to there should be a continued emphasis on testing.  At the extremes there seem to be rather few people.  No testing is unrealistic and also doesn’t provide the essential assessment mechanisms. Overemphasis on testing takes time away from other educational priorities and also saps the enjoyment out of learning.  The third alternative, the push for responsible testing seems to have broad base support throughout the community and I am in total agreement.   If the state will over time deal with issues they have created, I am certain the public will respond appropriately and positively.

Public School education in many states may need to change.  But we only move ahead if the changes improve learning and comprehension, not if they create dissention and compromise learning in favor of testing.  We very much need responsible testing and we especially need responsible public officials to effectively manage change. 


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