Limits needed on ‘high-stakes testing’

Published 9:55 pm Thursday, December 11, 2014

By Chris A. Quilpa

Testing is important. In fact, it is employed almost everywhere in business and industries, occupations or professions.

In the case of education, students are tested to gauge their range of learning and to find out if they understand what has been taught by their teachers.

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The common pen and paper or online testing have become the norm in education, and test results are recorded for various purposes. Test scores are looked at as if they are the ultimate indicators of learning and teaching.

Not to discount the pen and paper test, but there are other ways to evaluate learning. One is active classroom observation and participation, particularly graded individual classroom recitation. Asking students questions is a form of testing. Observing one student helping another to solve a problem is testing. And giving an essay-type test in the classroom is another way of testing students’ critical thinking, thought-organization, mastery of the language and communication skills.

Students and teachers are under a lot of pressure from all sides of the education spectrum, especially with mandated state and federal standardized tests that take precedence over individual lesson plans. Hence, they are teaching their students to the tests. And, thus, their students’ test scores become the basis for evaluating teacher performance.

Some people are quick to point their fingers at educators for students’ failures. But who is to blame?

Blaming teachers for students’ failure to pass standardized tests is absurd and counterproductive. What teacher would want his students to fail in class? Students are their responsibility in school. But that doesn’t mean teachers are responsible for everything in their students’ minds. Students have minds of their own.

Students have the will to learn or not. They even have the ability to disrupt a class and, therefore, jeopardize the day’s learning for those who want to learn. What about the responsibility of that student, his or her family, other entities or agencies charged with helping to educate our students?

The National Education Association is launching a campaign to end “toxic testing,” the abuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests. With its new president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the NEA will continue to push the president and Congress to completely overhaul the No Child Left Behind program and to end mandates that require states to administer outdated tests that aren’t aligned to school curricula.

Furthermore, NEA is “calling on lawmakers to repeal requirements that state standardized tests be used to evaluate educators, and instead implement real accountability in our public education.”

Eskelsen Garcia said high-stakes testing is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn. “It’s corrupting the collaborative relationship we have with each other as we’re told to compete against each other — district against district, school against school, teacher against teacher, and support professionals against each other.”

It takes a village to raise and educate a child. Our teachers do all they can to help make their students successful.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in northern Suffolk. Email him at