I-Step, U-Step, We-Step, Blah, Blah, Blah

In my home state of Indiana the annual state wide achievement test for grades three to eight is called IStep. It has been in the news a lot recently because this year the test is nearly twice as long in time as it was last year. 12 hours!!!

Now it is not taken all at one time. However, to a third grader, three or four 3-hour testing sessions may as well be 12 hours at one time. These are eight and nine year old children! By the second session they are going to dread even going to school. Who can blame them?

I’ve seen some of the tests that first and second graders take during the regular course of the year. They cover very little – one or two questions or problems on a particular topic or skill. Really? That is going to tell the teacher what the child knows? I doubt it.

It appears that what I would call regular tests are disappearing because of the giant standardized tests. Standardized tests of one form or another take up nearly 25% of the school year. An article in our local paper stated that students take 40 hours of standardized tests annually. That does not take into account the time the teachers use to prepare the children.

A standardized test assumes that all the children in the same grade in the state have studied and hopefully mastered the same skills at the same time. This then requires that everyone study the same topics essentially at the same time. If this were not true, then there would be a different standardized test for each school in the state. There isn’t.

I worked one spring for a company that develops and scores standardized tests. We graded the tests from schools all over the state. We were given guidelines on how to score the questions that required short answers. I can assure you that the responses varied from one end of the “correct” spectrum to the other.

By extension a standardized test requires a standard curriculum. A standardized curriculum eliminates local control of schools.

Once upon a time each school – each teacher! – determined what happened in the school room. There were topics and skills that had to be covered during a specific year. There were textbooks and workbooks adopted by the school that each teacher used. But they had the freedom to add other activities to support their instruction. And they had the freedom to present the material in their own way.

The teacher administered tests on a regular basis. Tests s/he had written were based on the material recently covered. The teacher graded them and learned who had mastered the material and who had not. What a concept!

Considering all the now-everyday conveniences we enjoy, this old-fashioned education must have done a pretty good job educating people.

Now that all these required tests take up so much time, there is precious little time for a teacher to add to the instruction. Because if s/he doesn’t cover everything dictated by the standardized test, s/he risks losing her job. Or worse, s/he could cause the school to lose federal funding because their students didn’t score well enough on the standardized test.

I tried to read the very long article about my state’s current discussion on the length of the standardized test, but I got very frustrated. Everything was about how it would affect the ability of the state to grade the schools. And it would affect securing federal funds. And it would affect the union discussions. And it would affect how to determine which teachers would be retained.

I gave up because there nothing about how it would affect the children.

In tutoring I can see immediately when a child doesn’t get something. Although I have the advantage of a one-to-one working arrangement, a teacher who is administering self-prepared tests on a regular basis has a much greater chance of identifying a student’s problem.

The sooner a problem is identified, the sooner it can be addressed. If a teacher spends an inordinate amount of time preparing for and administering standardized tests, there just is not time to see problems develop in individual children.

The focus and discussion are on the wrong topic. Rather than spending time, money and newsprint on how long the state test should be, we should be focusing on hiring the best teachers so they can do the best job educating children. Let the parents and local school boards decide how they want their children educated.

Anyone else on board with me?

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