The Education Sector Is Truant for Tests

The main parts of our education sector are trying to shirk assessments. Some teachers, parents, students and college administrators are each asserting reasons for avoiding standardized tests that measure how well students can perform.  Of course, none admits that the funding provided to develop student performance is no longer needed.

Teachers unions have been resisting school systems’ inclusion of student assessment data in a teacher’s annual assessment. They would prefer being assessed by their buddies – in private.   While there are ways that student performance data could contain unfair influences, there are also fair ways to make measurements.  For example, data would be fair if limited to the improvement between student accomplishments at the end of the prior year compared with accomplishments at the end of the current year.  Data for students who were not enrolled for the full year could be excluded.  In Virginia, teachers have objected on grounds of privacy to making teacher assessments public. 

On the other hand, parents are rightly eager to know if their student has been assigned to a teacher who has performed poorly.  The welfare of the student and the interests of taxpayers should play prominent roles in the composition and handling of teacher assessments.  There is no need to engage in public shaming, but a teacher’s assessments should reflect progress in what they are paid to do – improve a student’s academic performance.  If school systems can afford to keep non-performing teachers on the payroll, or to offer pre and post school-time babysitting, family counselling or sports coaching positions, those jobs should be paid and assessed separately from the professional, well-performing teachers.

Many states could legitimately object to a history curriculum fashioned by educators in thrall to big labor, but history is not part of Common Core.  Common Core is limited to mathematics and reading.  Mathematics and reading do not lend themselves to promoting aberrant politics, so the academic cultures within states are not at risk.  Objection to Common Core seems to stem first from opposition to federal government insinuating itself into any aspect of education, and second from the requirement for another standardized test.

The movement to opt-out of standardized tests is a growing middle class phenomenon.  Students from rich or from poor families are less likely to opt out.  In New York City, 20% chose to opt out this year, and of those who took the test, 31% passed the reading part and 38% passed the math part.  The NAACP urges parents to not opt out because the tests shed light on which schools need extra resources.  Without the tests, underperforming teachers and schools will be allowed to slide.  Unfortunately, we cannot know what students know and how skilled they are at reading, creative thought and logic – unless we test for those skills.  Unless we know the test results, we cannot pick the right acceleration in subject matter or remediation to cure underdeveloped skills.

Colleges are avoiding an academic achievement filter for incoming freshmen. “[M]ore than 850 U.S. colleges and universities… no longer require applicants to take the SAT or ACTProponents of making the tests optional say the switch can help schools become more diverse and admit students who will thrive even though they may have lagged other applicants on scores.” That statement implies those who lag on SAT scores will thrive anyway – so why have colleges required an SAT score until now? Colleges’ change in admissions policy may be a means to increase student headcount or it may be a recognition that academic strength is needed in fewer of the college’s curriculum paths.

Those who think performance assessments end after secondary school or even after college are deluding themselves. Throughout working life, we are offered challenges where our performance is carefully gauged by our boss, by our colleagues, or even by the public.  They need to know what and how much they can rely on us to do constructively.  Claiming that you “test poorly” is an attempt to excuse yourself from the inevitable challenges that life dishes up.   It is in our interest to learn how to “test well.”

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research

 

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