ARTICLE: The Pitfalls of Standardized Tests
by Ms. Christina Miller, Owner, Millhopper Montessori School
Click HERE to view the article on the Gainesville Sun’s website
There has been a lot in the news lately regarding the value of standardized testing.
Testing students should serve the purpose of evaluating and improving curriculum as well as learning the practical aspect of taking a test. However, teachers do not get the precise feedback they need to improve the ways they spend classroom time.
Often just the opposite occurs and the test leads the curriculum. Large amounts of time are spent on teaching the test, which negates what a test was designed to do, which is to measure what children have learned through their observations and hopefully an experiential, authentic curriculum.
At Millhopper Montessori School, we do not promote or retain due to the results of standardized testing. However, the stakes are very high with regards to test results in the public schools.
Children are advanced or retained because of the results. It makes the importance of a year’s worth of learning meaningless when compared to a brief, timed performance, in large part on knowledge-based multiple-choice questions.
Even though various subjects are covered, success all boils down to how well a child reads. Except for the computation and estimation sections of the math portion, everything is led by reading comprehension.
Science and social studies as well as word problems all unfold with one’s ability to comprehend what he or she has read. Little, if any, higher-level thinking skills are required.
The full picture of what students know or what ability an individual student has or hasn’t compiled in his or her years of schooling is not revealed.
It is very important to learn the practical aspect of taking a test. Therefore, I approach testing as a practical life skill at my school. Because testing is a part of our society, it is valuable for our students to know how to approach a test without fear and stress.
We do not administer the FCAT. We use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and test once a year from kindergarten through eighth grade. We never put pressure on our students.
They are not stressed throughout the several half days of testing, but I must admit they are always glad to get back to business as usual.
Testing students should serve the purpose of evaluating and improving curriculum. Despite the fact that the test-scoring process does not allow the precise feedback necessary for evaluating the curriculum, it does allow for an understanding of what skill format is being used on the test to evaluate the students.
For example, the spelling section may give the students a choice of one correctly spelled word mixed with those incorrectly spelled. This is an editing skill. It is important for students to learn this skill in life and vital in order to be successful with this test section.
Being successful with the multiple-choice format also teaches an important skill such as how to eliminate and narrow down a correct answer.
It is important to keep in perspective that standardized tests are only one form of evaluating our students. On the plus side, it has the advantage of scoring large groups providing percentiles and norms.
It is equally important to remember that teaching, learning and evaluating do not become authentic if schools teach the test or model a curriculum around the questions. Ask any teacher.
Christina Miller is president of Millhopper Montessori School.