Saturday, March 26, 2011

Need Another Reason to Stop Standardized Testing?

C--- E------
passsedd the exit exam... sooo do i really have to do all these papers and assignments?
41 minutes ago ·  · 

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The other day, this interaction popped on my Facebook newsfeed. If this doesn't explain why we need to get rid of standardized testing, then I don't know what does! The student who posted this is a senior in college. In theory, at this stage in the game, she should understand the value of education for its own sake, but testing is clearly setting up a false indicator.

Maybe, she's right, though. If all we want students to do is pass the exam, then should they have to do any more work after they pass? What's the point? I know I'd find it hard to make meaning of my education if I was simply being pushed towards completing an exam that declared me "college educated."

I learned long ago that if I'm involved in my education for its own sake, I learn. If I learn for a test, I forget it all after I've emptied it onto the exam worksheet. I'm only studying for the test, not to better myself. 

It seems that DePaul University is learning a similar lesson. As recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, DePaul University is the biggest private university to make standardized test scores optional, following in the footsteps of Wake Forest University. The Chronicle states:
"Although ACT and SAT scores are also solid predictors, they provide little additional insight beyond what a student's high-school transcript reveals, according to Mr. Boeckenstedt."
Additionally, administrators at DePaul hope that this will encourage students to believe that their performance in school matters more than a single test.

So why are we still pushing for standardization, especially when it costs students so much, both monetarily and educationally?

When I was in public school, I never gave much thought to standardized testing. I was a good student, someone who never experienced test-taking anxieties. The SATs were just a long morning that I spent filling in bubbles in a quiet classroom. I gave little thought about how the standardized tests I was taking year after year were affecting my thoughts on the education I was receiving. When I think back, however, the list of standardized testing is huge: IOWAs, CoGATs, GEPAs, HESPAs, SATs, AP exams, general GREs, and Literature GREs. Luckily, I had parents who truly believed in the value of education for education's sake, who kept me focused on what I was really supposed to be doing in school-- learning.

Stepping into my first year of writing center tutoring, however, the toll standardized testing has taken on students became immediately obvious to me. The way students were writing papers, over-anxious about grammar and nothing else, trying to fit cookie cutter writing formulas, and having no idea how to practically apply research, were a result of being drilled in writing for standardized testing. Students were looking for time efficiency and "correctness," rather than developing ideas and involving themselves in scholarly conversations. Basically, they didn't know why they "needed to know" anything that wasn't going to insure they received high marks instantly. The same held true in my classroom.

Despite all of these markers, however, I see few places that are hopping on board with what DePaul is doing and more jumping into the deep, dark hole of exit exams. Students resent it. Teachers resent it. Parents aren't sure what to think about it. Ultimately, as Chris Gallagher reminds us in Reclaiming Assessment, these "accountability measures," a word stemming from the business term accounting, will negatively reshape the face of education, from an institution that values individual growth to an institution that tracks numbers. Students will only be trying to "make quota" rather than bettering than themselves.

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