Patricia Levesque: The case for standardized testing
Monday, June 18, 2012
By Patricia Levesque
June 17, 2012
Original Item Here
Concerns surrounding the FCAT, Florida's annual tool that tells us how our kids are doing, and standardized testing have been dominating recent news and school board meetings following the release of students' 2012 scores. The dip in scores this year is primarily because students took new, harder tests. In light of these concerns, there are a few salient questions that we must ask.
Are higher standards a good thing? Yes.
Standards define what students are expected to know in each subject area. They must be aligned to college and workforce expectations.
In 2009, the Sunshine State joined 45 other states to develop the Common Core State Standards. These new, improved standards are better for our students, because they are benchmarked with the top-performing countries in the world.
These standards are also better for our teachers, because there are fewer of them, and they are deeper in nature. This means teachers will have more time to focus on critical skills, instead of having to cover so many different standards that they cannot provide the necessary focus to any topic during a 180-day school year.
With Common Core State Standards, Florida will know how students are doing compared with their peers in more than 40 other states. Assessments to measure the Common Core State Standards will be administered beginning in 2014-15, replacing the FCAT as we know it. The growing pains we are going through this year are in preparation for the move to these new, better tests and standards.
Is testing beneficial to student learning? Yes.
As a mother, I want my children to be tested so I know how they are doing. Like a trip to the doctor, we check up on our children because we care — we want to make sure they are developing appropriately.
Eliminating standardized testing would mean having no standard, annual information for how well our children are being prepared for success in the future. Standardized testing helps all of us — teachers, parents and school leaders — know which students are struggling, so we can work to intervene.
In the eight-years before Florida began assessing student learning with a standardized, statewide test, graduation rates declined by nearly seven percent. Since reforms were put into place, state graduation rates have increased by 20 percent, and according to Education Week's 2012 Diplomas Count report, Florida's Hispanic and African American students surpass the national graduation rate average by 9.6 and 3.5 percent respectively.
Is there too much testing? Maybe.
The number of tests required by the State of Florida has declined by 40 percent since 2008. Yet we continue to hear complaints from teachers that too much of the school year has been taken up by testing. How do we reconcile these two statements?
Look at the tests that are being required locally. A brief review of school district websites indicates many require two to three times more tests than are required by the state annually. It would seem that while the state has reduced testing dramatically, many local school districts have increased district tests.
If districts choose to give students additional tests, it is their decision, but if these local tests are reducing teaching days and test results are not being given back to teachers in a useful and timely manner, they should reexamine the need for these additional local tests.
It is irresponsible that we continue to see a barrage of inaccurate and misleading information. A white paper by the Central Florida School Board Coalition is one recent example, citing a list of implied state-required "high stakes" tests. This white paper incorrectly lists the amount of testing required by the state, while ignoring the vast testing requirements required by the districts themselves.
A better focus of energy would be on informing Florida parents of the proactive steps made toward Common Core State Standards and what district and state leaders are doing to make sure teachers have the resources to teach the new standards.
If Florida wants students to be the most prepared in the nation for Common Core State Standards and equipped for success in the classroom and in life, we must ask students to show what they know.
It is unfortunate that school boards are spending time and resources passing resolutions against the FCAT when they could be working to better inform parents, equip teachers and prepare students to reach higher.