Despite Improvements, School Testing Remains Deeply Flawed

It’s that time of year again. The moment where high school students across the county grab their lucky No. 2 pencils and sit for hours at a time in classrooms, computer labs and gymnasiums, answering all sorts to questions about math and literature.

That’s right, next week area juniors will get their first crack at the newly revised SAT standardized high-stakes test, courtesy of the School District of Palm Beach County, which has offered the test to all district 11th graders for the past few years as a means of helping boost their opportunities for higher education acceptance after they graduate.

About a year ago, we commended Florida Gov. Rick Scott for his executive order suspending the 11th-grade Florida Standards Assessment for English language arts, which helped to lessen the overflow of alphabet soup tests our students are required to take each year. It was one small step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it seems this action was the only step recently to reduce the number of days our students are forced to take a battery of tests assessing reading, writing, math, science and history. Freshmen and sophomores are still taking the FSA (and will do so in the days following the SAT). In April and May, area students will take AP, Cambridge AICE and International Baccalaureate subject area tests. And as if national and state testing wasn’t enough, there’s always the Palm Beach Performance Assessment thrown their way by the very district in which they live. When autumn rolls around, the testing cycle begins all over again. And that’s just the high school level. The testing culture works its way as far back as the early elementary school years.

If our children were automobiles, this would be the equivalent of being in the shop every other day going through diagnostic tests to see how they are performing. Of course, these various assessments aren’t even truly “diagnostic” in nature; teachers and administrators don’t get to see the student responses to be able to truly analyze where improvements are needed in the teaching process, and even if they do get the results, it’s usually months later — and often, the students have different teachers by that point.

We believe there is a time, a place and a purpose for properly structured and presented testing. But one of the other huge issues is that the tests keep changing, and the bar keeps shifting as to what constitutes “passing” or “good” scores. If these tests are truly to be incorporated into the formal educational process as a way of analyzing student learning, the state legislature and testing companies have to stop making changes on what seems to be a whim. The best way to truly assess learning is to use a stable method of assessment. With structural changes taking place every year, there is no true way to measure results on a year-to-year basis.

We call, again, to end the madness. Let our students learn more; let our teachers educate more; let both groups test less.