Each year in grade school, I was required to take a standardized test. I graduated high school in 2006. Since then, tests have increasingly been incorporated into schools nationwide. According to greatschools.org, a non-profit organization and leading national source of school information for families, these standardized tests have become more and more important in assessing student learning. But, is that all that they are used for? Also, can’t good old-fashioned classroom grades from assignments, projects, quizzes, and tests (derived from the class curriculum) provide a similar, or better, level of assessment? If so, then why are public schools allowing testing corporations to create tests out of state, outside of the school’s curriculum, and outside of the student’s assigned learning? These are questions that New Mexicans have been asking for many years.
At the 2015 Children and Youth Day at the Legislative Session, and at the Families United for Education School Board Town Hall, Generation Justice conducted interviews with youth from around New Mexico. One common concern of these young people is standardized testing in schools. The standardized tests that I took in high school weren’t nearly as educationally restrictive as the tests are today, as student success is now dependent on them. Yet, they do not directly contribute to the success of students.
So, why do schools implement these tests in the first place?
It’s clear that a fundamental motive for implementing standardized testing is to participate in the “Race to the Top” for federal funding. Better academic standing means more funding, and each school and school district is in competition with one another. Because of this, preparing for these tests becomes a lot more important than a desired curriculum for the students. Gary King, a Democrat who was in the running for governor in 2014, said during his campaign that he would be willing to give up federal education funding simply to get out from under the burdensome federal testing requirements. Additionally, Democrat Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham also expressed her disappointment with the issues that have surfaced due the increase in standardized testing that came along with Obama’s “No Child Left Behind”, a program that is meant to progressively assist in determining federal spending for K-12 education.
There is also the phenomenon that former mathematics professor, Dave Posner, refers to as “teaching to the test” that must also be considered. Teachers are under constant pressure to ensure that test scores are reflective of a successful educational institution. “Opponents of this so-called high-stakes testing,” says Posner, “complain that such intense pressure causes teachers to devote virtually all classroom time and resources to preparing students for the standardized test.”
Although there are claims that standardized tests are inclusive and non-discriminatory, I suppose they forgot to include the large population of students for whom taking tests is not a natural skill, and instead perform better in verbal presentations, essays, papers, or hands on activities. Although the process of standardized testing purports to promote equality, it is most certainly does not promote equity.
Because of these lingering issues, many parents in New Mexico have decided to opt-out of, specifically, the PARCC test. A woman whose granddaughter is in eighth grade, for example, told KOB that she requested an opt-out because her granddaughter has a learning disability.
Every student deserves the opportunity to have a great education, and policy makers should trust that teachers and faculty will report on and address individual student needs accordingly. Clumping the entire student population together, denying them valuable class time, and issuing them a corporate created standardized test, under the assumption that it is non-discriminatory, is wrong.