Saturday, March 9, 2013

Response to NC State Super's Justifying Massive Increase in High Stakes Tests

“While it has been many years since I was in high school, there is a tradition that has continued since I was a student at Staunton River High---tests are given at the end of each course.” June Atkinson, Superintendent, North Carolina Public Schools
In a recent blog post entitled “How Many Tests Do North Carolina Students Have to Take?” North Carolina State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson justifies North Carolina’s massive increase in the number of high stakes tests by pointing back to her own days in high school. Her reasoning is that “It is a tradition to take tests at the end of the course” so what’s the big fuss about all these tests North Carolina is asking students to take?

Here’s what she does not mention in her post that was not in existence when she was in high school.
  • Tests did not determine by policy whether students failed courses or grade levels. In Dr. Atkinson’s day, there was an understanding and common sense that all students do not have the same abilities and skills so their effectiveness could not be judged by a single test score. Teachers in Dr. Atkinson’s high school did not have to condemn students to “not being proficient” by a single test score. Instead, they were able to make holistic decisions about student performance that was based on teacher knowledge of that student.
  • Tests scores were not used to judged the effectiveness of teachers and administrators because educators understood that was not what the tests were designed to do. The tests designed by Dr. Atkinson’s teachers were designed to see if students learned what that teacher taught, not judge teacher performance. And, teacher tests were designed by the teacher who taught the students not by teachers in the far-off state capital who have never met the students being tested. Fundamentally, Dr. Atkinson’s teachers tested what they taught and what they thought students should know. Not today, North Carolina teachers are forced teach what 800 teachers who met in Raleigh decided should be on the test.
  • While students may only spend 10 hours testing, though I question this number, teachers are forced to spend days in test-prep mode, after all these tests are used to determine their effectiveness. Teachers in Dr. Atkinson’s day prepared students for life, not the next test because their job performance was not judged by an exam score. They judged their success as a teacher by how well their students did in life. The reality of testing that state leaders and politicians ignore is that what’s on the test is what gets taught, period, hence, that’s why North Carolina schools have become massive test-prep centers.
Dr. Atkinson’s post seeks to justify North Carolina's massive increase in the number of tests using that age-old argument, “It’s a tradition.” But her arguments ignore much of what was not tradition. Her argument that North Carolina teachers “now have access to standard, quality exams that they do not have to develop on their own” doesn't make these new high stakes exams more palatable either. There "quality" is yet to be determined. In the end, what has changed about Education in North Carolina? Nothing that’s good if you look at our state testing program.

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