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Opinion Standardized testing: One Size Fits All?

George Hasara“Teaching to the test” has been a perennial shortcoming of the public school system. However, in recent years, it has mutated into a viral form of “teaching to the standardized test.” While standardized tests can be an indicator of general proficiency, the only thing they measure directly is the ability to take a particular test.

My son Nick’s initial Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) score jeopardized his chances to gain admission to Georgia Tech, even though he had straight A’s in high school. With a little study he was able to boost his score by over 200 points on his second SAT. That was good news, but it certainly cast doubt on the validity of a testing system that supposedly accurately measures a student’s readiness to attend college. The fact that knowing or learning “how to take a test” can significantly alter the results makes that test suspect. Of course, the testing companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars annually will tell you otherwise. Despite what his first SAT score indicated, Nick would go on to earn a masters degree in civil engineering at Tech, finishing near the top of his class.

Time, energy and money on mastering a particular test is not restricted to college-bound high school students. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 spawned the Adequate Yearly Progress Reports (AYP) which all public schools must administer to their K-12 students. President George W. Bush and the late Senator Ted Kennedy were instrumental in bringing about the NCLB. So, feel free to either praise or denounce the program as either “conservative” or “liberal.”

While standardized tests can be an indicator of general proficiency, the only thing they measure directly is the ability to take a particular test.

A recent report in this newspaper shows that four of the 11 public schools in Macon County were deficient in their Adequate Yearly Progress Reports for the 2010-2011 school year. Not only are these schools “inadequate” but individual students share this label as well, if they don’t fill in enough of the right boxes on the test sheets. One very bright and precocious Franklin seven-year-old I know was just awarded this “inadequate” designation. The tests he took may have measured attitude but certainly not aptitude.

In Atlanta, Ga., there is an unfolding scandal of teachers manipulating these AYP test scores. Cooking the scholastic books in Hotlanta (and elsewhere) should not be surprising. If demands are made for something that cannot be delivered, something else will be given in its place. As fraudulent as what some teachers in Atlanta have done, an arguably worse side effect of AYP is squandered class time. Teachers and administrators find their own performance scrutinized by a battery of tests on their students. It is predictable under this system, that general teaching of curriculum is prone to be redirected to specific preparation for federal mandated testing.

As far as standardized assessment of students, we already have a system – it’s called grades. This should be paired with a personalized system of evaluation known as “talking to the students.” Perfection is not an option, but greater personal attention is. No child should be left behind, but the dependence on standardized tests should. Instead of “teaching to the test,” how about “learning to learn.”

George Hasara is a regular contributing columnist for the Macon County News, as well as the owner and proprietor of the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub, located at 58 Stwart Street in downtown Franklin.


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