Flaws in state-required tests, parents & educators say

Holding schools accountable based on one test
– such as the STAR test – is ludicrous and irresponsible.
That thought was shared by many, including the guest speaker, at
an education forum Saturday that brought together parents,
educators and professionals concerned about the high-stakes tests
in California schools.
Holding schools accountable based on one test – such as the STAR test – is ludicrous and irresponsible.

That thought was shared by many, including the guest speaker, at an education forum Saturday that brought together parents, educators and professionals concerned about the high-stakes tests in California schools.

The guest speaker was Eric Mar, a board member of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, which has passed a resolution supporting alternative assessments of school accountability instead of the Sat-9/Cat 6 and the California High School Exit Exam.

“(The state) will ask schools why the tests are so low instead of asking ‘What resources can we give you to help?'” Mar said. “They’re telling students to jump higher and higher, but they’re not giving them the resources to do it.

Mar highlighted his beliefs and the San Francisco board’s stance on the accountability measures. He discussed education author and lecturer Alfie Kohn’s “five fatal flaws” of the standards movement and high-stakes testing – it gets motivation, pedagogy, evaluation, school reform and improvement wrong. Many, including Kohn, miss the diversity of schools and the racial and socio-economic status effects on testing, Mar said.

One point that resonated during discussion was that having the current high-stakes tests punishes students. With the California High School Exit Exam, some students are punished twice, Mar said – by attending a bad school that is given little money and resources and again when they can’t get a diploma because they didn’t pass the exit exam.

Policy makers sometimes feel the need to use consequences to motivate people, Mar said. The problem is that the students are the ones being punished by the consequences – not administrators, not teachers and not the policy makers, said Ray Rodriguez, a member of Parents and Students for Educational Justice.

Another issue that is hard for educators to swallow is that these tests are not being written by mathematicians or scientists, but professional test-makers, a San Benito High School teacher said at the forum. After looking at high school exit exam sample questions, the teacher said some had two correct answers for the same question and some didn’t address any state content standards.

Currently, more than half of the state’s high school students have not passed the exit exam. If this continues, some educators say the state will have to redefine its entire social structure, Rodriguez said. There will be students who can’t get a job and students who will not be able to go to college right away because they didn’t get their diploma, he said.

Many teachers and administrators are upset that they are not being asked for input when such accountability decisions are being made. Dee Brown, a professor of education and Hollister School District Trustee, said high-stakes tests are a detriment to student motivation and achievement.

“The educators – the people who work with students every day – we know what we need to do to change it. The policy makers are the ones who need to sort of get out of the way,” said Brown, who noted that she attended the meeting personally, not as a representative of the Board.

Mar suggested alternative means of making schools accountable to parents and the state. One would be having students complete portfolios – similar to exhibitions such as those required for graduation at Anzar High School – because they are not a snapshot of learning as the current tests are. Mar also suggests that school districts have a say because they understand the local conditions. But to allow schools across the state a means to compare themselves with other schools in the state, they need to be given adequate resources to do so, he said.

Some educators will go as far as to say policy makers are trying to discredit public education to move their agenda to vouchers. An example would be the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act. The act has stringent standards and, if public schools do not meet them within a certain number of years, parents could demand that their children be sent to better-performing public or public charter schools. Some see this as a push for school vouchers, a program Bush supports.

While there is an environment in San Francisco that makes it easy for the Board to publicly denounce the testing, educators in Hollister don’t feel the same. Whenever teachers discuss their concerns, the presence of an administrator scares them into silence, one teacher said at the forum.

One thing everyone can agree on is that there is a need for the community to be more vocal if they want change, Brown said.

“Why are we so quiet about it? We know it’s not beneficial,” she said.

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