Monday, October 5, 2015

Reflection on "The Gathering Resistance to Standardized Tests"

You can access the article I am responding to here. I chose this editorial because I have pretty strong opinions about standardized tests as a history teacher and as a former employee of a school that placed most of its value (on teachers, students and the school as a whole) on test scores and data. I also wanted to read this article because I am presenting on standardized testing later this semester, and thought it would be a good starting point for research.

The editors at Rethinking Schools put together a piece about the dangers of standardized testing and the need for reform of this system. They list many schools across the country in which teachers, unions, parents and students have all opted out of high-stakes testing. 

I thought the following passage was particularly interesting: The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.

Though I knew that these standardized tests favored white, middle and upper-middle class students, I didn't know about their origin. I think it's very interesting that despite having supposedly come so far from the beliefs mentioned above, we still use the same system to assess our students. I have much more to say on this topic, but I'll save it for December 2!

This article really interested me because I worked in an environment that was very much driven by test scores. Students took practice MCAS/PARCC tests twice per year per subject, all students took PSATs (even 7th graders) and our final exams were practice PARCC tests. Teachers would be given bonuses based on how well their students did on our mock exams and the real thing. AP teachers would be given a huge bonus for every student who got a 4 or 5 on the end of year exam.

The editorial also talked a lot about students and districts opting out of state tests. I see both sides to that debate - one the one hand, I don't agree that the PARCC is a fair assessment of student knowledge. During the spring of 2015, some of our students took PARCC and our older students took MCAS, as it was still part of their requirement to graduate. Our 9th grade students were told to take the PARCC, though it wasn't a requirement for them. A few of our very high achieving students opted out and our admins were (understandably) unhappy. In talking to a few of them, their responses were the same - "what's the point? I'm just going to fail. It doesn't even count for anything so why should I bother?" If the test was more meaningful, would they have had the same reaction?

I also understand where policymakers are coming from in that if 50% of students in the country don't take the test, how can the test be evaluated and improved for the next crop of students? 

I recently watched the documentary Race to Nowhere on Netflix. It's all about the standardized testing system in this country. I highly recommend it! It also somewhat embodies the beginning portion of this editorial in Arne Duncan's comment about the opposition to the common core coming from "white suburban moms." 


  1. I hadn't thought much about the resistance to standardized testing aside from the justifiable complaint of teachers limited to "teaching to the test". The thought that they were originally designed to maintain inequality just boggles the mind. Why do we continue a practice that serves to separate and discourage our students?

  2. I was drawn to the same article. I will definitely be watching the "Race to Nowhere" and am glad you shared this. I am very much looking forward to your December 2 class because standardized tests have always been a hot button topic for me.

  3. I think it's interesting how you referred to testing being used to demonstrate the "mental ability gap" and now the "achievement gap." It makes sense to me that some people call it the opportunity gap instead because it is more indicative of the actual root causes of the gap. I am very against the message that some people derive from standardized testing that the scores somehow indicate something inherent about the students. I believe that most of the meaningful differences come from the environments and opportunities people are exposed to.

  4. I feel back and forth on standardized tests. If it is a solidly made, well rounded, and diversified test, I can be on board. But if it is like PARCC, I am not so much a fan. I believe a test should fluctuate with a student, finding the real depth of their knowledge, and not just if they can hit a "starting point" and go on from there, which is essentially what PARCC does.