Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is All of This Testing Really Necessary?

By Trenton Goble on July 16, 2012 8:26 AM

With the introduction of No Child Left Behind, the pressure to improve increased, and our focus narrowed to cover the material that would be tested. I recall sitting in a principals' meeting with 50 of my peers as we were handed our Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) results. The relief and pride I felt when my school made AYP was most certainly a validation of our hard work. I am sure it helped, at least a little bit, to have the district's gifted and talented magnet program at my school. The fact that my school was also located in one of the more affluent neighborhoods probably didn't hurt either. The reality was that every principal in that room could predict, with nearly 100 percent accuracy, which schools would pass and which schools would fail. The results of the end-of-level assessments seemed to correlate more closely with the schools' demographics than with the amount of work a school invested in improving its results. At the time, it felt as though the only real reward for making AYP was a great sense of relief, and the consequences of failure were limited to public humiliation when the failing schools were listed in the local newspaper.
When I was asked to be the principal of a school that had rarely, if ever, made AYP, I jumped at the chance. I poured through the data, and made charts and graphs to share with teachers during our Data Day discussions. If my last school could make AYP, so could this one. Once again, we narrowed our focus and invested heavily in tested subjects. After we felt the sting of not making AYP my first year, we managed to achieve a passing grade every year thereafter. Granted, we never actually met the standard, but we showed enough improvement to be granted a waiver each year. It was clear that we were doing all the right things to improve our test scores, but something didn't feel right. All of our charts and graphs were pointed in the right direction, but when we looked more closely at our results - when we looked at individual student progress - there were still far too many students at risk of failure.
When we gathered the data from all of the tests our students were subjected to each year, we were left with nothing more than a mountain of papers that only reinforced what we already knew: This student struggles with math... that student struggles with reading. When you consider all of the time, energy, and money invested in the multitude of tests given to our students, it would seem reasonable to expect a little more information. 
Shouldn't we at least know the specific skills and concepts our students know and don't know? 
Shouldn't we get that kind of information when we still have time to go back and provide interventions for those students who have failed to master the skills or concepts? 
Why do we continue to use tests and gather data that does neither? 
To answer the teacher's question from the beginning of this post, no, all of this testing isn't really necessary. And I can't help but believe that I am not alone in thinking that it is well past time to completely reevaluate our testing practices.

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