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State Testing: ‘Tis The Season

‘Tis The Season … For State Testing, That Is!

Spring has sprung! Days are getting longer, the weather is getting better, and the plants are blooming. What else is happening? Around our great nation, students are sitting at a computer and taking some form of standardized test to measure what they have learned this year. Ahh, standardized testing. To some, it is the great equalizer, an opportunity to see how an individual stacks up against their peers. To others, it is the downfall of modern society.

Steve here! I would like to chime in on this greatest of all educational debates. As a former teacher and current administrator, I believe I can add something to the discussion. I welcome all others to chime in as well. I should let you know up front that I have a very strong opinion on state testing. If you disagree…good! This is a blog post, right? I am supposed to get people thinking, talking, and even arguing (in a civil way, of course) 🙂

Where did this state testing idea come from?

Who is to blame? Will it go away?

Way Back When

The year was 1965. The war on poverty was in full swing. As part of the war on poverty, President Lyndon Johnson enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I will spare you the history lesson (that is what Google is for), but in essence, President Johnson believed the way out of poverty was education. The premise is logical to me. We have all seen those graphs that demonstrate how much money you make as your education level rises. So, that’s where it all began. The idea that as a nation, we should really look at how we are educating our children. Not only how we are educating them, but asking “does it work”? If our approach doesn’t work, then what should we do?

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Improving America’s Schools Act. It was a reauthorization of the 1965 act signed by President Johnson. What is significant about this act is that it was the beginning of standards and accountability of teachers, students, and administrators.

Next came No Child Left Behind. This little bill was enacted by President George Bush. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) upped the ante significantly for educators throughout the country. The key tenant of this act was that it required states to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, states were required to give these assessments to all students at select grade levels. I was a young teacher when NCLB was enacted. I can tell you, it was a game changer!

NCLB was the standard by which the education world abided until the concept of coming up with a national set of standards was brought forth. The idea was that no matter where a student was in the country, be it in Maine, Kansas, or California, a single set of academic standards would guide teachers in their instruction. Thus the Common Core State Standards were created. With the exception of a few states, most of the country has now adopted Common Core. The concept in many ways makes sense. Shouldn’t a student in Florida be learning the same standards as a student in Washington state. This is a huge debate for many! Why can’t states make their own decisions. Who needs the Feds sticking their noses where they don’t belong!! My thoughts on that later.

Tests, Tests, and More Tests!

If you have standards, you have to assess those standards, right? Whether the standards are created by each state or the Feds, you still need to see if students are learning what they are supposed to. I am an educator in Washington State, so I will give you a quick run down of how NCLB impacted teachers here in Washington. The first iteration of a state test came in the form of the WASL, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. It was a paper pencil test given in specific subjects at certain grade levels. WASL ruled the roost for several years until the MSP came along. MSP or Measurements of Student Progress was the middle school replacement for the WASL. For high schools it was the High School Proficiency Exam, or HSPE. Up to this point, tests were tied to an adopted set of state standards.

This year, in Washington State, we are taking the SBAC or SBA. The SBA or Smarter Balanced Assessment is tied to the Common Core. This assessment was created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of really smart people with a lot of time on their hands. Is the SBA better than the MSP or HSPE? I don’t know. I will tell you one thing, it is certainly more rigorous! The assessments have a traditional computer component, the Computer Adaptive Test, and also an additional component call a Performance Task. Again, you can research the specifics if you would like, but the idea is that the game has changed again. This is a nationally normed test tied to a national set of standards. This is another HUGE source of debate! Some would argue that we are killing our kids with tests. The pressure brought on by these tests are going to damage these poor kids. Or at the least damage some egos!

Blake here! I would like to chime in on this greatest of all educational debates. As a former teacher and current administrator, I believe I can add something to the discussion. I welcome all others to chime in as well. I should let you know up front that I have a very strong opinion on state testing. If you disagree…good! This is a blog post, right? I am supposed to get people thinking, talking, and even arguing (in a civil way, of course) :)

Let The Arguing Begin!

Here is your chance to let me have it! I believe a national set of standards and said test are a good thing! Better yet, I think it is a great thing!! Standardized tests are an excellent tool for getting a diagnostic exam on a student’s learning. The more normed the better. In my school, we use these types of tests for placing students in advanced classes, placing students in special programs, or just as a data point for academic interventions. When I say the more normed the better, I mean the more students who take the exam, the greater the picture of how students should perform we can get.

Also, I believe more and more colleges will begin to use the SBA as an entrance exam. Six states already are; California, Delaware, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington. Why? Because colleges, especially highly competitive universities such as Stanford, Vanderbilt, Ivy League schools need a clear picture of who is applying. Universities have the ACT and SAT, but outside of that, they rely on transcripts to get an academic picture of a student. In the past, there was no guarantee of a rigorous academic program from state to state. A student in a state with rigorous state standards was not on an even plane with a student who sat in a state with more lax standards. The SBA gives schools another data point to determine entrance. As a parent who has children who hope to attend a higher academic institution, I welcome the tests.

The final argument I would like to weigh in on is the idea that we are killing our kids with “high stakes” testing. Standardized testing has been around for ever. Does anyone remember taking the ITBS? I do! I believe this idea is nonsense. I can tell you the students at my school are doing just fine. Standardized testing K-12 has been a part of our students’ lives from the very beginning. They know no different. The reality is that it will not go away. I never took the WASL or MSP, but I have taken the ITBS, ACT, GRE, MAT, ASVAB, DLAB, various college finals, comprehensive exams for my masters degree, and the Washington State Drivers Exam (which I failed the first time)! With the exception of an occasional flashback and night sweats, I have survived. Our children are strong, bright, hard working individuals! They will take on any challenge put before them. Many students will take entrance exams for college, the military, law school, medical school, etc. Is it “high stakes” testing? You bet! Will they survive? Absolutely! If anything, the current state testing will only prepare them for what is to come!!

What are your thoughts on state testing?

I know you have them! Let me know.

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