Standardized testing, to measure how well schools and educators are teaching children, is constantly under debate. Government programs, such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” were implemented to give states a standard by which to hold our education system accountable. Instead, these programs have created divides among parents, teachers, and politicians.
Among teachers, cheating (i.e. falsifying scores) has become a widespread problem in a climate where high test scores are necessary to keep jobs and maintain funding. Students are stressed about the number of tests they need to take. Fed-up parents are opting their children out of the testing madness. And politicians are pushing back to uphold the policies they put in place.
In private or independent school settings, students are not mandated to take state standardized tests, and although schools may participate in testing if they wish, most don’t. At Fessenden, while we don’t participate in standardized state testing, we do we use an adaptive assessment tool called i-Ready. This tool helps teachers understand each child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and then customize his learning experience to appropriately challenge and support him. Our faculty sees i-Ready as an invaluable tool that helps them do their job better. Teachers retain the freedom to instruct based on curricula that best serve their students, and students reap the rewards of a more well-rounded education. Other benefits of not participating in mandated standardized testing include:
- Less pressure on students. Some students just don’t perform optimally in the testing environment and have anxiety around the process. Others put in countless hours studying for these mandated tests, which takes them away from their other activities.
- Less pressure on teachers. Private schools are primarily funded through endowments, private gifts, and tuition. As such, a private school teacher’s job and incentives do not rely on government funding that is tied to test scores. There’s no need to consider falsifying scores as a way to keep their jobs — or even to ensure the entire school doesn’t shut down.
- Curricula is creative. Teachers can implement creative, cross-curricular lessons that aren’t solely focused on test preparation. They can teach a curriculum that is built around strong academic principles, but that also incorporates different learning styles and creatively sparks students’ interest in learning and actually enjoying school.
- Teaching to each student’s abilities. A common complaint about standardized testing is that all students are treated as “one-size-fits-all,” meaning tests are developed without either gifted students or those lagging behind in mind. Lesson plans are based around helping the largest number of students score correct answers on tests — not on giving the students individualized attention they need to thrive in a classroom environment.
There is no denying that teachers should be held accountable for their job performance. Standardized testing can be one of many useful tools in gauging whether or not students are receiving a good education. However, additional mechanisms are available to measure the abilities of students and teachers, from observations, to adaptive assessments, to lab practicals, to peer evaluations, to a blend of methods. And removing teachers’ obligation to “teach to the test” helps ensure students get a wide variety of educational experiences–including those that go beyond the classroom walls.
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