Yes, folks, we’ve once again arrived at that terrible time of the year, testing season in Minnesota! That’s right, Minnesota does not have just winter and construction seasons, but for most of the students, they also encounter testing time between March and May. My long-time readers know my feelings on required standardized testing, but for those late to the party, let’s go over a brief review.
The law says that all students in grades 3-8 need to take tests in reading and math yearly. There must also be reading and math tests given at some point in high school as well as science tests at three different points. Schools are judged on the results of these tests, though students are not held accountable in any way.
And there’s the rub. Schools and teachers are constantly held accountable for everything that happens. And we should be. We have one of the most important jobs in the world. But the accountability of the students has deteriorated greatly over the course of time. Every year I have students ask, “Will I fail this class if I don’t pass my MCA test?” The answer is no. Absolutely nothing bad can happen to you for doing poorly.
Now in some ways, that’s okay. I have students who will never pass an MCA reading test at grade level. The same is true for math teachers. But are they showing improvement over the previous year? That’s been my focus for many years. If reading is a real struggle for a student, especially for those who are serviced by special education, we have to have realistic goals. It was so gratifying this year to see some of my students who really find reading tough brighten up when I showed them they had improved by even a few points. They had worked hard for me all year and were rewarded by this result.
But then there are the kids who just don’t care. I watched as a couple of kids finished their reading tests in one sitting, when we provided four sessions in which to complete the MCA test. Did they care one lick? Of course not: if there wasn’t a negative repercussion, they didn’t care. Even when offering some positive reinforcement in the form of various rewards for even showing one point of improvement, they were not motivated enough to put forth any effort other than what it took to randomly choose answers.
Minnesota moved to having adaptive reading tests this year. The more questions a student got right, the more difficult the test became. I’ve long thought this is a better way to make a more accurate assessment of ability, but I had an eighth grader ask me afterwards what the words pathos and catharsis meant. At what point would any eighth grader need to know that, even if they’re very advanced?
There is a group of educators that, unbelievably, thinks we should tie school funding into 8th grade test results. I’m sorry, but as long as we have kids who just don’t care about the testing, they will not be an accurate measurement of student achievement. The funny thing is that most educators realize this fact, but our legislature and department of education keep plugging away.
I attended Lobby Day in St. Paul again this year and took the opportunity to visit with some of our legislators regarding the over-testing. They continue to listen but don’t seem to hear. I did learn something surprising though. School funding is linked in some way to testing. If we don’t have a certain percentage of kids physically take the tests, the state will take away some funding.
On the other hand, parents have the legal right to opt their children out of taking the tests. Some do this for a variety of reasons. And it’s their right! But schools can get dinged if parents choose to follow their law-given right. We have no control over that, but we’ll be punished. Yep, that makes sense.
And here’s the next step in the illogical mindset of our legislature. There is currently a bill working through that would essentially use government funds to help support private schools. These vouchers, or whatever you want to call them, would allow parents more choice in their students’ schooling at less cost.
Hey, I was pleased to go to a private school K-12. My parents sacrificed a lot so I could have smaller classes and more opportunities in addition to a religious base to my learning. They would have loved to have been given some money to help offset those costs. But to take funds away from public education, which is guaranteed to all students, and give it to schools that don’t have to accept all students is unacceptable.
But wait, there’s more! Private schools also are not required to administer the standardized tests public schools have to. There is nothing in the voucher bill that says they have to start doing this. So now our leaders want to give them money without the accountability of the public schools.
To sum up, I still dislike tests, but the strange accountability rules that go along with them make less sense all the time. Will it change anytime soon? Of course it will, but likely not for the betterment of the most important people, our students.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is analphabetic, which means illiterate, as in, “The analphabetic student dreaded the approaching standardized tests.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!