“How will we know how our kids are doing without the state tests?” asks the woman up front.
Wearing a purple batik blouse, black suit pants, long graying hair pulled into a messy twist – and though I failed to check, undoubtedly Birks, Toms, or clogs – she’s the sort of hyper-involved, left-leaning parent I’ve come to expect ‘round these parts. We’re a gluten-free scone’s throw from Berkeley, after all.
To put it mildly, this is not a crowd where I expect to hear distress over lack of testing. And yet the other parents are nodding. They agree: without tests, how will they know whether their children – and the schools – are making progress? How soon till the tests begin again? Will there be other measures? The speaker tries to reassure the angst-ridden moms and dads by promising that, even though California won't be testing kids for one year as schools transition to the Common Core Standards, district-mandated standardized tests will still happen. My sense is that this answer seems like nothing more than a Band-Aid to these anxious parents.
Something we love to hate…
For a long, long time, “standardized testing” was uttered like a four-letter word in many parts of the country. The trio of policy maker (George W. Bush), policy (NCLB), and effect (mandated standardized tests) were all regularly muttered as epithets. In the press, the bad rap hasn’t dissipated with time. Education thought leaders and researchers continue to assail the lesser points of testing. In their recent New York Times Magazine article, Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman wrote: “Never before has the pressure to perform on high-stakes tests been so intense or meant so much for a child’s academic future. … even third graders feel as if they are on trial.” Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote a column enumerating the “Five absurdities about high-stakes standardized tests.” Strauss and others have written about teachers, principals, and parents despising these tests – and the detriment to kids, teachers, schools, and education.
Given our somewhat tortured relationship with standardized tests – tainted as they are by NCLB, cheating teachers, unfair teacher evaluations, and childhood misery – you’d think that now that we’re throwing NCLB out, we’d also be chucking standardized tests and letting the door hit them on their way out. Not so. Though 42 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico have NCLB waivers, none are getting rid of testing. As the majority of states move toward Common Core, the only discussions about testing seem to be centered around which new tests the state will use, new question formats, and using technology to take tests – not doing away with testing. I have been pondering this head-scratcher silently… and then I attended this Oakland school district conference for parents about the Common Core. The news that California schools are skipping standardized tests to give educators and students time to adapt to Common Core hasn’t triggered mass celebrations (well, maybe among teachers, which is another story, but not among parents). The mother’s concern over missed testing floored me. Those tests we love to hate - could some people secretly appreciate them now?
…but actually love?
As an education writer, I’m skeptical about standardized tests using poorly thought-out questions and unfair access issues when it comes to technology. But I am nodding right along with the crowd, fairly convinced the batik-clad mom’s got a point. Without the tests: how will we know how well schools are teaching Common Core?
Turns out this mom - and this crowd of parents - are not alone in their appreciation of standardized tests. A recent poll reflects this attitude shift among parents. Last summer, 1,025 American parents of K-12 children answered a series of questions about education. The nationally representative AP-NORC poll shows a majority of parents view standardized tests as helpful. A full 75 percent of parents say standardized tests are a solid measure of their children's abilities, and 69 percent say standardized tests are a good measure of their schools' quality. Somewhere along the line, we’ve come to value the benchmarking these scores afford us. Sure, there are still vehement test haters and lovers. But for the masses who lean less passionately one way or the other, this is more than just acceptance of a necessary evil. It smells like test appreciation.