It’s Testing Week!

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

In many schools across America, the much-heralded standardized tests have begun! Of the millions of events that take place in schools, standardized testing is the most misunderstood. Unhappily, it’s not just the parents who misunderstand why we undergo this annual ritual.

Standardized testing had its origins not too many years ago. In the United States we can look to WWI as a starting point for this practice. It was during the mid-sixties, however, when state and national lawmakers decided that there ought to be some measure of our students that looked like it took place on a common playing field.

Proponents of standardized testing argue for its inherent fairness and the nation’s ability to measure the success or failure of its largest institution! Those opposed to the practice use phrases like “drill and kill” or “teaching to the test” as their battle cry.

Here’s what I like and dislike about standardized testing:

First, I hate wasting teaching time by assessing the students. Every time I make a quiz or test (or some similar assessment) I try to make the thing itself a learning experience. Just “taking a test” seems to me to be a colossal waste of time. As such, you can see that an entire week given to standardized testing gives me the willies! Second, there seems to be a remarkable number of “trick questions” on these tests. Do you remember the ones where you’d read a paragraph about, say, the moon landing? You then had to answer the question “What is the paragraph about?” Your choices would include A. Neil Armstrong, B. NASA, or C. landing on the moon.

On the other hand, the data is useful. It answers the fundamental question (How am I doing?) for both student and teacher. It allows those in charge of curriculum to make needed adjustments, and finally, it allows the American political system some hard numbers upon which it must feed. And I’m serious about that. Since our legislatures provide the cash for 80% of our schools, I suppose they ought to have some say in the outcomes.

So here’s the final thought on the matter. For about one week out of thirty-six, we will do our best to have a “snapshot” of how well we’re doing. That’s less than 3% of a school year. I think we can invest that much of our time in a metric that, while imperfect, has use in our educational model.

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN