As part of the graduating class of 2002 from Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado, I was part of the last class to not have annualized standardized tests. The classes below me, unfortunately, didn’t fare so well.
As a student, I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant for how my curriculum was shaped each year, and how the students just a year below me had an entire different lesson plan than I did even when taking the same courses the following year.
For my entire class, our teachers were able to develop lesson plans based on what we needed to learn and understand in order to grow and further our knowledge. They were not subject to what test-development contractors appointed by the state had dictated. Our teachers taught with the vigor, excitement and passion that, as a parent, I want to see in my own children’s classrooms.
I had wonderful teachers who taught me how to problem solve, formulate a theory and defend it. Since they didn’t have to waste 25% or more of our class time prepping for standardized tests, we were able to hone those skills and dive deeper into how to apply them across subject areas. These skills have come in handy for me on a daily basis when it comes to tackling real life problems.
Why Standardized Tests Exist
Let’s be frank: we’re never doing away with all standardized tests. They do serve a purpose as a metric from which we can measure competency (namely at one’s ability to take a given test). In fact, I think AP & IB tests, as well as the SAT and ACT, are great tools to help transition students to college.
But the reality is that there can be too much of a good thing. Currently, the Florida Standards Assessments are administered to all 3rd through 10th graders (there are a couple of End-of-Course tests for specific classes like Algebra too). Their stated reason for existing is,
“The Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) provide parents and families, teachers, policy makers, and the general public with information regarding how well students are learning the Florida Standards.”
If all it does is tell us how good our students are at taking a specific test, why are we spending so much time on it?
The Truth Behind the FSA
Standardized tests started out as a universal way to measure schools against each other; in essence, they were a diagnostic tool. It made sense: if we can determine what every fourth grader should know, then we can test all the fourth graders and see if they know the material.
Then, if a school’s 4th grade class, on average, tests lower or higher than another school – we can start to quantify and rank schools.
But this information raised a significant problem: what do we do about the schools that don’t test well?
We tie a school’s funding to their student’s test scores (test well, more funding; test poorly, less funding). While this may seem a logical way to respond to these scores, it actually presents a huge problem that our entire state is facing. Because, at its root, schools live or die by a pointless test.
Testing high across the board, for each grade level, logically becomes each school’s mission. More important than how well a child is learning, or what they are learning – a school is entirely focused on how well their students can pass a test. Nothing more.
These tests become the deciding point of school’s survival.
In the end, this derails our children’s education. And perhaps more disturbing, our own students are responsible for their own school’s funding.
In my experience, the people with the best solutions are the ones seeing the problem firsthand, day-in and day-out. They are in the best position to see the root of the problem, not just the symptoms.
So I went ahead and asked a few teachers that I know their thoughts on how to fix failing schools. Here are the three things they each told me:
1. Don’t do away with charters – but make sure they play by the same rules. Most important: don’t let them have different admissions standards than traditional public schools (sidenote: most of the teachers — including teachers at charters — want separate funding pools from public schools. They don’t think we should be pitting charters versus traditional public schools — and I fully agree with them).
2. Give Principals more autonomy. Parents, Teachers, and Principals know which teachers do a good job and which ones don’t. Giving the Principal more room to help struggling teachers & students will change things more than any test. Simultaneously, to hold the Principal accountable, let teachers and parents fill out annual surveys for the School Board and Superintendent to review.
3. Change how we punish bad behavior. Right now, we have a schools-to-prisons pipeline. We need alternative ways to get kids back on track and not let them fall further behind as a punishment.
Our public education system in Florida is in desperate need to be fixed; one of the reasons I’m running is to get government out of the testing business and let our teachers teach. If you agree with me and want to see ideas like this pursued, please help me win this race. The Democratic Primary is on August 28th and I’d love your support.
If you have any questions (or even if you completely disagree with me), please feel free to shoot me an email.