It’s spring. For some people that means baseball, for other people it means getting the garden ready, and for a few (a very, very few) it means cleaning. But for the parents of school age children spring only means one thing: standardized testing.
It would be hard to figure out who hates standardized testing more: the teachers who have to waste so much time on it, the parents who have to endure the pleas of the schools to make sure their children show up “fit, tan and rested” on test days, or the students who have to actually take the test. In fact, I think the only people who really like standardized tests are the companies who sell them and the legislators who get to pretend they care about education by ordering them.
In case I haven’t made myself clear, I despise standardized testing. I firmly believe that not only is it micro-managing of the worst sort, but that it also does nothing to improve our schools or our children. If anything, it makes them worse. Think back to all of your favorite memories of your favorite teachers: how many of them involved filling in little bubbles with a No. 2 pencil? No, the memories that stick with us are the ones where teachers went above and beyond to help us learn something, where they taught us with passion and enthusiasm. And that passion and enthusiasm can only come from a true place inside: it cannot be legislated into existence.
I know that we need a way to measure the progress of teachers, students, and schools, but to suggest that there is a “one size fits all” solution to this is insulting to all concerned. There are better ways to determine success, but as is usually the case with “better” ways, that would mean more effort on the part of the people determining the success.
The only true way to measure a classroom’s progress is to measure it against itself: a test that decides that the classroom that went from a 30% average to a 55% average is doing worse than a classroom that went from 75% to 80% is clearly missing the point. As is a test that fails to recognize the difference between a classroom located in a peaceful, middle class neighborhood and a classroom located in a community where the major employer pulled up stakes and left six months previous.
Having said all this I recognize the bind that this puts me, my children, and their teachers in: even though I firmly believe that standardized tests—at least the way they are done now—are useless and damaging, I also know that they are the measuring stick by which schools and teachers are judged. So here’s the dilemma: do I encourage my kids to take and do their best on these tests, knowing that their positive contribution is helping their teachers now, or do I take my children and “opt out,” knowing that ultimately this decision will be helping teachers in the future?
Luckily this year the decision was taken out of my hands, since the middle school AIMS test had the gall to schedule itself right in the middle of not one, not two, but three punk concerts, and we all know that the family that moshes together stays together. There was also this holiday called “Good Friday,” or something that people seemed equally worked up about, so I think some other kids might have missed as well.
I doubt I’ll be fortunate enough to have such a perfect excuse again next year, though, so in all probability I’ll just have to suck it up and make a decision on my own. Or who knows? Maybe the legislature will get their act together and make the right decision for me.
Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either.