I got an email from our school district the other day. It was a rundown of all the standardized tests that are coming up in the next few weeks. ISATs, COGATs, ITBSs, and NAEPs. Three things about this email jumped out at me, and they got me to thinking.
First, these tests are being “administered,” not “offered.” There’s a presumption that our kids should be taking them.
Second, while I don’t mean this to be an anti-NCLB rant, I’m not aware of any evidence that standardized testing of “educational achievement” actually produces better education. By “better education,” I mean “able to think.” In fact, I suspect that standardized assessments actually lower the quality of education because they focus on specific knowledge rather than the ability to take that knowledge and do something meaningful with it. The most effective school I’ve ever seen, the KIPP Ascend charter school in Chicago, spends an extraordinary amount of time on instruction, sets high expectations and doesn’t accept excuses. They measure their success by outcome – how many of their students are accepted to competitive high schools (100% the last time I checked).
Third, the email contained a few tips for parents to improve student performance on the tests. Tip #1 was this gem: “Make sure, if possible, that your student attends school on the days of testing.” As Woody Allen said, “90% of success is just showing up.” I consider our superintendent a friend and an asset to our community, and I’m guessing he didn’t see this email before it went out.
That tip also prompts me to ask: What if we decided not to participate? I’ll probably get into a lot of trouble for this, but maybe my daughter should be sick when test day rolls around. Maybe yours should be, too. We could just say no, and if enough people did, the test results would simply be meaningless, and perhaps we could make them go away.
I’m not universally opposed to testing, by the way. Both of our kids took full neuropsychological exams. These are highly detailed IQ tests that evaluate dozens of specific brain functions. Because they focus on processing, not on knowledge, they assess potential. We had our son do this because he has a learning disability and it was important to pin his issues down as precisely as possible. We had our daughter do it because once we knew how much insight was available, we wanted to have it for her too in order to know how high to set the bar. (She enjoyed taking the tests, although I suspect that today she wishes she’d taken a dive because the bar for her is set pretty high.)
So here’s an idea. How about we dump the standardized assessments and put the money into funding at least one neuropsychological evaluation for every child. Teachers could use this information to help each child make the most of his or her natural talents.
A pipe dream? Perhaps, but what if we could just said yes?