“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Albert Einstein
“Believing we can improve schooling with more tests is like believing you can make yourself grow taller by measuring your height.” Robert Schaeffer of FairTest
“Anyone can confirm how little the grading that results from examinations corresponds to the final useful work of people in life.” Jean Piaget
I suppose that my post today is a bit of a soapbox….. This week our school is giving all of our students standardized tests. This, coupled with the fact that I have learned I must take the GRE before I can even consider applying to PhD or EdD programs (even though I have a Master’s Degree) has me thinking a lot about standardized tests…… should they be allowed? are they useful? are they evil?
According to Peter Sacks, “Americans are taking as many as 600 million standardized tests each year in schools, colleges, and universities, and the workplace.” I find this figure to be a bit disturbing…. do we need to take this many tests? I realize that I end up having very moderate feelings on this issue. I do believe there is a PLACE for testing in schools/ organizations and society, but that sometimes the emphasis becomes wholly out of balance and that can be dangerous. I do believe we learn something when our students take the MAP test at our school. We test them in the fall and spring and we are able to track academic growth. We also receive valuable feedback as a school – if our third grade students are not progressing as they should in language arts or math, we are able to identify this as a problem and then go back and analyze our curriculum to understand where we made mistakes in our instructional strategies.
Additionally, the test does give us a picture of the current instructional level of each student, allowing us to pinpoint and focus on the areas of instruction they need.
Yet, when I am put in that position of being the one tested, I tend to have different ideas about the usefulness and validity. In order to even think about applying for programs, as I mentioned above, I have to take the GRE. I graduated from high school quite a long time ago (I am almost 40, you do the math!) I was so advanced in HS math that I did not have to take any in college… which means I have not seen complex math problems for @ 22 years. Yet, I will be tested on coordinate geometry and probability and the ability to calculate the area of a triangle within a circle. Please tell me, if I have not needed these skills in over 22 years, why on earth do I need to prove I can calculate them in order to get into graduate school? Will my ability to remember the Pythagorean theorem REALLY have an effect on how I organize myself to write a dissertation? It seems so silly to me.
“If more testing were the answer to the problems in our schools, testing would have solved them a long time ago.” Bill Goodling, chair of House Education Committee. I agree with him completely – and I would have to wonder if we are focusing on the wrong thing. I know of individuals who could not organize themselves to follow through and get good grades when in school, but managed to secure spaces in high-ranking colleges due to high SAT scores. These students were brilliant, but in the end did not make it in university because they needed someone to help them organize their time. On the other hand, I have known individuals who did not get into their top choice universities because their SAT scores were too low… they went to a junior college, then a university, and are much more successful than some people who scored high…. showing that perhaps a standardized test is not really the best indicator of collegiate or life success. (My partner often will comment about the fact that these tests are not infallible, but something is needed to weed through the applicants and at least these tests are that something.)
So, in the end, I see the value of the tests in my professional life, but in my personal life I dread taking the GRE and I worry that I will have to take it multiple times before I reach the minimum score necessary to apply to PhD Programs (if I choose to apply in the future). I will leave you with this quote by Bill Ayers: “Standardized tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning.”
Today, 288 days ’til 40, I continue to ponder the value of standardized testing… what do you think?