Standardized Tests Defended

CHRIS FREIND Standardized Tests Defended
By Chris Freind

When convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal was asked to be the commencement speaker for Goddard College in Vermont, most people had two reactions:

1. Goddard’s invite was classless.

2. What kind of school doesn’t administer tests or give grades?

Goddard became the butt of jokes, as people asked why anyone would pay money to attend a college that didn’t quantifiably rate student progress.

College is a huge investment, so parents want to know how effectively the institution is educating their child. Plain and simple, the best way to gauge that is through tests. Yet, that same logic is increasingly under attack when applied to standardized tests in our elementary and high schools. Movements are underway to decrease or eliminate such tests, alleging they are ineffective and too stressful on the students.

Taking a test is stressful? And that’s bad?

Of course taking tests has an element of stress! That’s a good thing, as it teaches how to work effectively under pressure. Despite the misguided souls who believe such a concept is passé, it’s a timeless lesson that will help our children succeed in that thing called “The Real World.”

Leading the charge against “high-stakes standardized testing” is the New Jersey Education Association, which has unleashed a six-week ad campaign, with parents and teachers discussing how detestable such tests are.

Gee, what a surprise. A teachers’ union (just like those in Pennsylvania) whining that things are unfair and that the system is stacked against them. Who’d have thought?

Here are some gems from the commercials:

— “We are setting our kids up to fail.”

— “All of the other things that make you a great human being are not important anymore … what’s more important is can you answer A, B, C, or D.”

— “My first grader cried” after preparing for a test.

— “Standardized testing has gone from a nuisance to a concern to a crisis.”

— “Education is supposed to be about our students, and it’s becoming about a test.”

Where do we start?

First, glad to see the union finally realizes education should be about the student, since that’s never been a priority. Instead, its focus has always been gaining teacher tenure as quickly as possible while keeping the public schools a monopoly, crushing any attempt at competition.

Since monopolies, by definition, are responsible to no one, it’s easy to see why the union staunchly opposes testing. It’s petrified of being held accountable.

Testing provides a quantifiable benchmark to measure both student and teacher performance, which, in turn, creates accountability. Isn’t that what we should want for our children? How could this possibly be a “nuisance” or “crisis?”

The real crisis is people burying their heads in the sand, thinking everything will be just peaches if we coddle our kids by eliminating yardsticks for success. It’s just the latest in the “everyone gets a trophy” homogenization of America, which is destroying our children.

And how does taking a test make someone less of a “great human being?” Talk about insane pyscho-babble. Standardized testing doesn’t make children less nice, nor does it degrade their skills at baseball, violin or karate. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. In fact, despite our politically correct society, all of those activities have “tests” of their own. Not hitting the correct notes on the musical instrument? Practice more. Having trouble catching the ball? You won’t play until you improve. Can’t master karate techniques? Sorry — no black belt until you do.

Critics are turning a blind eye to the indisputable fact that we are constantly tested: in college, the workplace, sports, friendships, family, marriage. Tests are impossible to avoid for the simple reason that life itself is one giant series of challenges. How we deal with them — our successes and failures — is how we are evaluated.

Critics claim that school programs are being eliminated to fund, and prepare for, the tests. Two points: A.) gaining knowledge in math, science and reading is far more important than extracurricular programs, which, while nice, aren’t going to equip students to compete in the real world, and B.) that’s an issue less about testing than it is about public schools squandering billions. With better stewardship of that money, there is no reason students can’t have both.

Standardized tests are not the be-all and end-all. Admittedly, some schools are testing their students too often, and, in the process, placing an undue amount of pressure on them, which becomes counterproductive. Nonetheless, testing remains an absolute necessity.

Let’s keep this in perspective. These tests are not to land a great job or get into college. They are simply designed to ascertain what subject areas need to be improved upon, and ultimately, to incentivize us to better educate our children. And as to “teaching to the test,” that’s not a bad thing so long as the test is seeking answers to relevant material. Students need to know certain things, period. So why would a reasonable person oppose a test that quantifies how well they understand those concepts?

And if not tests, then what? What is a viable alternative to measuring our children’s knowledge? Individual evaluations by teachers? Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. There are many fantastic educators, but also many who, armed with tenure, are content doing the bare minimum. After all, why go the extra mile when they’re making the same money regardless of effort (teacher pay is virtually never linked to student performance), and have guaranteed job security?

Clearly, many factors related to student achievement are out of teachers’ control. But so what? That’s not an excuse to walk away from seeing where our children rate on the knowledge scale.

Standardized tests expose the unions’ dirty secret that the pubic school system isn’t working. It’s not working in the cities or suburbs. It’s not working when more money is poured into less affluent schools, and it’s not working in schools flush with cash. Color, race, creed and socioeconomic status all are irrelevant. Sure, there are different levels of achievement, but when we stack our best and brightest against the global competition, we not only lose, but continue to fall farther behind.

The crisis we face is of epidemic proportion, one that cannot be solved by throwing more money at the problem or instituting feel-good fairytale solutions. We cannot afford to waste another decade, forsaking our children because some choose to ignore the widespread failure occurring year after year. Our children are no longer competing against those in Seattle and San Francisco, but Singapore, Stockholm and Sydney. Compared to our industrialized competitors, America ranks near the bottom of all educational categories.

It’s bad enough we have fooled ourselves into thinking dumbing down standardized tests, such as the SAT, is a good thing. But taking it further by allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized tests, and eliminate such tests altogether, is a colossal failure in the making.

We have been failing our children for far too long. Let’s not compound that by teaching the wrong lesson about life’s tests.

Standardized Tests Defended

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