Do students really win with our WASL?
Similar to their confidence in IQ test results, most Americans put their unconditional trust in standardized achievement tests, which can have the affect of stigmatizing our children with labels ranging from genius, to average, to academically challenged.
With Bill Clinton's "Goals 2000" of the 1990s and President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" programs taking center stage and putting emphases on results -- meaning higher normative testing scores -- it's easy to buy in to the testing hype. Ranking in the top percentile seems synonymous to winning an Olympic gold medal -- by academic standards. Does this status mean that the high performers are better than the rest? Will proud parents start flaunting bumper stickers proclaiming "my child's" superiority over the majority of students who are average or low achievers?
The National Association for the Education of Young Children, as well as the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy, declare that the conventional assessment procedures and tools are detrimental to students' emotional and intellectual development. Politicians pay little heed to these warnings, and are observed as pushing these evaluation tools on a nationwide scale, according to Rhama Akin, an educational researcher, in her doctoral dissertation Oklahoma State University.
Politicians stress that their testing implementation makes schools or parents more academically responsible -- but sometimes ends up creating competitions between departments, schools, districts, and states. Akin points out that this rivalry for prominence, financial grants, and job security has little to do with enriching children's education, as faculty and staff strive to boost test scores by teaching to the test rather than providing the students with a curriculum that cultivates their mental and intellectual maturation.
Some school administrators and instructors also may feel pressured to go against their professional instincts by giving in to the state-enforced assessment methodology -- all the while, trying to convince themselves that bolstering test performance is synonymous with providing higher quality instruction.
In order to stay in the political and economic game for higher funding, ranking, and reputation, traditional education institutions continue to peddle back-to-basics programs, often concentrating on standardized tests. In his book "Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense", former Bainbridge High English teacher and bestselling author David Guterson stresses that even though it's uncertain as to what exactly this mode of assessment determines, it often only appraises a student's ability to acclimate to the pressures, strategies, and preparations of test-taking.
Whether these exams are benefiting students academically and developmentally may seem inconsequential to some schools, which may be too caught up in the numbers game to give it much thought. Many educators will concede that most devices used to calculate student comprehension levels are unreliable at best.
However, even though testing may prove detrimental to children's learning, it's often considered to be the price that must be paid for accountability. These exams are a potential means for schools to sell themselves, prove their merit, and reap the dividends -- supposedly providing a "quantifiable" account of the overall learning taking place within their gates.
While teaching public high school English in California, I can't remember how many after-school faculty meetings I attended where the principal and administrators exhorted the staff to daily implement test-prep books and guides in the classroom.
Why? To better educate and prepare students for life? That was overlooked. We were focused on hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding if we beat out neighboring schools and improved scores by a certain amount of percentile points. Then we were directed to give up weeks of precious curricular time not only for this standardized testing, but also for teaching to the test by going over sample questions and essay topics.
Just last month, the Bremerton School District hired Baker Evaluation Research and Consulting for $122,000 to raise its schools' below-average WASL test scores, according to a report by the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. This was done to avoid "school improvement status," brought upon by low scores. Possibly, this also could put blemishes on administrators' and teachers' performance evaluations and/or threaten their job security. Could such a designation also hinder a school's ability to receive extra funding that could have been accessed had their scores been higher?
So, before you're sold hook, line, and sinker on embracing the WASL as the tell-all on student learning, ask yourself if wasting more instructional time and "educational funds" to boost test scores is really the best way to go.
How much are they actually accomplishing for our children? Are these tests truly about learning?
Is this really all about the kids?
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