Let's Jettison Standardized Tests into the Sea of What Was

What is the value of a standardized test anymore, if it ever had value?

(Day 16 of my 30-Day Writing Challenge)

Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash

In 2020–2021, Kids Had to Take State Tests

As my kids tramped off to their testing rooms to take the Keystone exam of the day, I worried about them. I didn’t worry about their score; I worried about them. Some kids expressed test anxiety so strong they were shaking a little. We all know that 20–21 was the school year from hell, and I was a bit angry that my students had to take these high-stakes tests.

I noticed they were calmer after I told my Praxis story, but I knew they were going to worry the next day or over the next few days anyway. Therefore, I worried about them.

If I have read the information correctly, the Keystone exam scores are not part of the graduation requirements for the 2021 and 2022 graduating classes. That’s a good thing. Most of my students taking the exams are in the 2023 graduating class, however. I question the validity of those exams, and I am not alone.

I think the government is too optimistic about this year being a rebound year. With the Delta variant raging, transmission rates rising, and tempers flaring at school board meetings, I am worried.

In My Opinion, It’s Beyond Time to Re-think How Students Demonstrate Learning

Let Students Demonstrate Learning When They Are Ready

Students sit for these exams over several days, and on any of those days they might not be at their best. I’ve said this many times before as I have argued the validity of these monsters. A student could be sick, tired, burned out, distracted, or disengaged. Test fatigue is real too.

I was lucky to not have to endure these tests when I was in school. They are brutal.

Do they even truly demonstrate learning? I don’t think so, for the reasons described above, and because I think it is unfair that students in all districts receive the same test, regardless of the resources the districts have.

Now, if every district had the same resources, there might be a justification for these tests.

Still, as I type that, I am reminded of how other high-stakes tests I have taken were administered. I was tested when my teacher felt I was ready to be tested. Those belt tests were still brutal, my test anxiety was still real, but Sensei said I was ready. I wasn’t ready in the same amount of time as my son or my friends. I was on my path. I had reached a point in the dojo’s curriculum (yes, they had a curriculum) that indicated I was proficient in x, y, and z.

If students have to sit for these exams, why can’t they wait until teachers say they are ready?

We have the technology to make this reality. When students are ready, the exam is scheduled, and off they go to take the test. I know that would require hiring more people to manage the process, but aren’t our students worth that extra expense?

What Are Some Other Ways to Demonstrate Learning?

The other options also require spending more on education. I actually shrugged after I typed that. I’m also pleased to report that Pennsylvania has alternative pathways to graduation. I hope more students benefit from alternative pathways in the future.

Such alternative pathways include:

  • Portfolio evaluation
  • Project-based assessment
  • Industry-based certification
  • AP (Advanced Placement) exam scores
  • IB (International Baccalaureate) exam scores
  • Successful completion of college-level coursework

Almost all these alternatives demonstrate learning over time. I take issue with the AP and IB exams for the same reasons as the Keystones. Still, they are alternatives.

Let’s explore these alternatives in more depth with our students and advocate for their use over the high-stakes assessments. I think it would promote the following important skills kids need as they become adults.

  • Project management skills, including commitment, scheduling, planning, etc.
  • Metacognitive skills
  • Ownership of learning and development; responsibility
  • Self-directed learning; self evaluation
  • Generating good questions and seeking strategic assistance
  • Creative thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Technology skills

I’m sure there are other ideas, and I would love to read about them. Please leave a comment.

Thank you for reading my sixteenth post of my 30-Day Writing Challenge. I’m past the halfway point!

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