An Interesting “Conversation”

I love how technology allows us to rapidly spread ideas and communicate differences.

In the comment section of a recent article highlighting a Buffalo, NY Opt Out event, Dave and I were able to have a little debate about the pros and cons of standardized tests.

Dave:

I wish the author/producer of this story would have fact checked and interviewed a counter position. Shame on you.

My daughters will be taking the state assessments. It is important that we know what they know and what they don’t. If we remove standardized, then how will we know the students are learning the standards? Or does Opt Out think educational standards are optional too? Once I visited a 3rd grade classroom in 2004, the year before standardized tests moved to grades 3 through 8 inclusive, where the teacher was upset because she could no longer spend four months on ancient Egypt. Granted, her students would know nearly everything about ancient Egypt but at what cost? What other curriculum were they missing? In this case, the teacher was not held accountable.

I embraced the adding the 3, 5, 6, and 7th grade assessments. Think about it this way, a student could perform admirably on the grade 4 tests and not be retested until the end of the 8th grade. If there were any deficiencies, students received Academic Intervention Services in the high school by attending an extra class or were scheduled in a remedial, double period (or two year sequence) math and/or English course. What a way to kick off high school? If students score a 1 or 2 on the state assessment, the student will receive remedial assistance within the next school year and not 4 years later in high school.

I know these tests could cause higher anxiety for children, but the teachers’ behaviors could help diminish those fears. How does Opt Out suggest a teacher identify strengths and weaknesses of numerous standards (more than 50) for a class of 25 students without testing? Or is that not important? How can we as citizen of this country ensure our students are learning? International tests such as NAEP suggest that the US education system is lagging way behind many other countries.

Wouldn’t you want to know if your son or daughter was career and college ready?”

Me:

standardized testing does not ensure that children will be more ready for the challenges that face them. They are also a less than ideal way of holding teachers accountable. I do not believe that anyone in the opt out movement is against high standards or against making sure we have good teachers in the classroom. They just recognize that these tests are flawed and it is unfair to judge a student, a teacher, or a school based on the results of one test score. The negative effects far outweigh any benefits in my opinion and I support parents that are ready to take a stand in defense of their children.

Dave:

What data do you have to suggest the tests are flawed? Do you have proof that the tests are unfair?

Me:

Information is everywhere, both anecdotal and scholarly. I’ll include one link to get you started (more and my comment will probably be considered spam!). It will give a taste of why many are opposed to standardized testing as the main form of holding everyone accountable. http://www.fairtest.org/facts/…

Dave:

Thank you for the website. However, I do not see any references to scholarly journals where controlled experiments were done. Just because a website states “fact sheet” does not mean these are facts. I am not trying to be difficult, I just wish to educate myself. If there are studies proving that tests impair the learning of our students, I want to read about it.

In reading the page, they did seem to focus on multiple choice tests and suggests essays were better measures. If, in fact that is true (I would think it is), then don’t we do that already with our ELA and Math tests. Students have multiple booklets to complete over a few days and only one day is multiple choice while the remaining questions are open response such as essays.

Me:

Yes, that was just a fact-sheet. There is far too much and in too many different places to list it all. I understand you’re not trying to be difficult and neither am I… We just disagree right now! Fairtest is just a place to get started and if you look around the site, you will find links to sources of all kinds. Agreed that one must look at more than a fact sheet to find “truth.” But I believe they’ve done the legwork in a believable way and so it is a good starting point. The director of the site, Monty Neill, has been working since 1987 on testing being used in K-12 which gives him in my opinion a fair deal of credibility. There are some other people with earned rights to be called experts in their fields, such as Research Professor of Education Diane Ravitch, lecturer and writer Alfie Kohn, as well as many dedicated parent and teacher organizations that fight hard for the public education in various ways. The point is that we don’t just disagree with high-stakes testing lightly. It is much more than, “we just don’t want our kids to take a test.” We have done our research and happen to agree with the facts that we have uncovered. One might also add that just because the government says it is in our best interests doesn’t necessarily make it so. Could I ask you to tell me how you base your pro-testing stance? Again, not being difficult… all in the name of open & honest dialogue!

Dave:

I have had the pleasure of seeing Diane Ravitch in person at a conference in Jersey City a few years ago. Ok, here is some of the data supporting tests:
This website does a good job of identifying pros and cons:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/…

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWeb…

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWeb…

Me:

Thanks! The PBS article does a good comparison of pros and cons. I’ve read all of these points before on both sides of the coin, and obviously happen to believe more that the negative effects of testing far outweigh the positive. The point for point comparison is too neutral in my opinion to really delve into any side of the matter. So, I’m assuming the government’s research on testing is what sways you? As it does a lot of people… because that’s the only information they get. It gets passed down to the schools and administrations, and then regurgitated to the public. I guess that sort of answers your original comment on this article. You stated you wished the author would have interviewed a counterposition. The counterposition for testing is ubiquitous, and until now largely unquestioned. It is the growing masses of people, like those in the opt out movement that are creating their own platforms for discourse because they are largely ignored by the bureaucracy that makes the rules and refuses to listen to a counter-perspective. Anyway, I guess we will agree to disagree! I really did enjoy this debate. Far too often comment sections are filled with emptiness or antagonism. Thanks again!

I appreciate someone who is willing to engage.  (So does my husband… maybe that’s why the Jehovah Witnesses come for him at least once a month… unlike me he didn’t hide in the house with the curtains drawn… They conversed, and now they just won’t stop!)

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