Overstating the obvious – “high stakes testing” is hurting public education

Posted in Around The State, Education, Public Schools, Teachers at 10:18 am by wcnews

Tom Pauken, not someone that I agree with generally, has penned a great Op-Ed in the Statesman, A common-sense approach to Texas education.  The gist of it what he’s talking about can be summed up in the opening paragraphs.

While significant polarization characterizes the national political landscape, a movement in Texas is bucking that trend. A broad-based coalition is taking shape, united in its frustration with the unintended consequences of the high-stakes testing system which has come to dominate public education in Texas and across the country.

In an attempt to make every secondary student “college-ready,” our state has come to rely on a so-called 4-by-4 curriculum and a STAAR test to measure school performance and accountability. A growing number of Republicans and Democrats in the Texas Legislature, business and labor leaders, along with parents, teachers, and school administrators, have come to question the effectiveness of the current system and are calling for the replacement of this one-size-fits-all approach with a common-sense solution that recognizes that students have different talents and interests.

The existing system relies heavily on how students score on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness — commonly referred to as the STAAR test. Under the STAAR, students have to take up to 15 end-of-course exams during their time in high school; and the tests are supposed to account for 15 percent of the student’s final grade in the subject tested. However, implementation of the 15 percent grading requirement was delayed because of a public outcry.

Even longtime proponents of high-stakes, standardized testing are starting to question the wisdom of the current system of school accountability. As reported by Paul Burka in Texas Monthly, the outgoing commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Robert Scott, made this startling admission in a speech to the Texas Association of School Administrators: “I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system that we have created has become a perversion of its original intent, the intent to improve teaching and learning. The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield, and I look forward to reeling it back in.”

Ever since Gov. Rick Perry asked me to chair the Texas Workforce Commission in 2008, I have been concerned about this excessive emphasis on what many of us have come to call a “teaching to the test” mind-set designed to prepare everyone to get a college degree. A fundamental flaw in such an approach is that not everyone is suited for, or interested in, going to a four-year university. Focusing on all students being “college-ready” ignores what every parent and teacher knows — different students learn differently. Some learn best with their hands; as they develop a skill, they begin to appreciate the relevance of basic math and literacy in perfecting their trade. In fact, our TWC data reflects that those students who get career and technical education in high school do better academically as well.

Yes, our schools need to be less about teaching kids to pass tests and instead about educating them on a more individualized basis.  Here’s the solution that Pauken would like to see.

How can we improve the quality of education while recognizing that children learn differently? Dr. David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas and a former school superintendent, recommends “adding multiple pathways to graduation.” One would be an academic pathway emphasizing math and science, another would place priority on the humanities, and a third would focus on career and technical education.

In order to measure school performance, we could return to something akin to the Iowa standardized tests to measure progress at the grade school level. Those who are college-oriented could take the PSAT, SAT and ACT tests at the high school level. Those enrolled in the vocational and technical fields would receive training that would lead to an industry-certified credential in their field of interest.

This is a common-sense approach to preparing young Texans to be college-ready or career-ready. It is time to end this “teaching to the test” educational system which isn’t working for either the kids interested in going on to a university or for those more oriented towards learning a skilled trade.

Let’s replace a system driven by “test learning” with one that emphasizes real learning.

It’s long past time we end the over emphasis on college readiness for all students. And if the trades are suffering, certainly going back to vocational education, like back in the old days, half day at school the other half working at a trade, an apprenticeship makes sense.

Patricia Kilday-Hart followed up with Pauken in the Houston Chronicle, Hart: Pauken demands end to testing treadmill.  While, again, he’s right on the problem I don’t agree with his opinion of the cause.

Pauken recently shared this experience because he’s increasingly frustrated with the education accountability systems devised in Washington, D.C., and Austin that have turned our public schools into testing treadmills. And when he sees schools labeled “exemplary” or “under-performing,” he’s transported in time to the meaningless scores he assigned Asian rice-farming communities during the Vietnam era.

“It’s abstract intellectualism,” said Pauken. “When you intellectualize and take out the human factor, the result is a bloody mess.”

Intellectuals have been against “high stakes” testing for a long time. What’s hurt education for quite some time is an ideological battle, corporate and right wing hatred of the teacher’s unions. That is why the testing regime was created, to drive a wedge between teachers and administrators.

But no matter who’s right about how we got here, testing is not going to get us out of this mess. And the idea of getting back to teaching students, that don’t want to or don’t need to got to college, life skills and/or a trade for after high school would serve the community and society much better.  It would be much better then preparing them for a college they will likely never attend. And with that I could not agree more with Pauken.

Further Reading:
Panel Finds Few Learning Gains From Testing Movement.
School voucher proposals raise concerns.
What should we fix first, education or poverty?

1 Comment »

  1. STAAR Bites | STAARwrite said,

    September 24, 2012 at 8:14 am

    […] A Williamson County blogger supports the assertion that high-stakes testing is harmful for public education. [Eye on Williamson] […]

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