Standardized Testing Malarky

I’m from Texas, which means in the 90s I was subjected to the standardized testing foolishness that has become the norm since No Child Left Behind. I remember one we took as high school testing guinea pigs–the test didn’t count towards anything–that asked, in multiple choice format, what the answer was to 2+2. You could tell when students got the question because they would inevitably giggle. I took so many standardized tests that I once asked my English teacher–in the snottiest, teenage voice imaginable–if she wanted a real essay or an inky dinky TAAS essay. There may have been a valley girl like in there; it was not a pretty request. Minnie Jackson spent at least 5 minutes going off on the phrase inky dinky and then told me to write a real essay. I now spend my time in first year writing breaking my students of the five paragraph essay habit developed in response to all the testing that they do. So, it’s not surprising that another Texas student has the same anathema to standardized testing that I do.

Kyron Birdline at Arlington High School tweeted a picture of his, um, short answer to an essay question on the new Texas standardized test, STAAR. His response was succinct: “I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness. YOLO :)” See, the STAAR doesn’t count towards his progress to graduation and the scores aren’t reported to colleges because Kyron is on the old TAKS system, a standardized test he does have to take and pass in order to graduate from high school. He was just a student guinea pig, aka providing testing data. His efforts at protest got him in house suspension for four days. But, hopefully, they also shine a spotlight on the sheer testing madness that has taken over public education. Constant standardized testing only teaches students how to take the test. None of the writing I did as an undergraduate looked like the five paragraph essay on those tests. None of the writing my students do look that way either. It’s absurd to think testing data gives you a reasonable look at who a student is and what they know. It tells you how well a student was prepared for the test and how well they regurgitate information. Testing as the sole arbiter of academic progress tells you very little indeed. I wonder if all those number comparing American students to other nations would be different if we actually looked at students holistically instead of reducing students to the norming structures of the bell curve of constant testing. Their knowledge might surprise us.

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