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Standardized Tests: Have we gone too far?

  1. May 5, 2015 #1
    As a big John Oliver-fan, I watched his new video as soon as it appeared:

    And what I saw was really shocking. I can't imagine taking more than 3 standardized tests in my entire life. Why did they let things get so far in the USA? This system must be quite off-putting for a lot of students and teachers. Not to say that standardized tests don't really say a lot about your abilities to begin with. It appears some major overhaul in education is needed.
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  3. May 5, 2015 #2


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    It's not as bad as china, where one standardized test essentially maps out the rest of your life and potential earnings
  4. May 5, 2015 #3
    Unfortunately, misguided politicians from both parties have enacted policies that tie increased federal funding to better school performance, measurable of course by more standardized tests.

    Combine that with the ACT and SAT--at my old high school, we probably spent 10 minutes in each class just practicing for these tests. And it's out of the question to stop, because we would be at a disadvantage compared to the other schools around the nation prepping their students for these tests.

    Quite frankly, I don't remember ever being pushed to learn for the sake of learning. Everything was about tests.
  5. May 5, 2015 #4


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    I don't get it. In my day we had Iowa tests only, and they weren't annual. My kids had similar tests. There were not a bunch of tests. Where, when and what are these supposed tests? We aren't talking about optional tests such as ACT and SAT.
  6. May 6, 2015 #5
    The school my children attends puts all their effort into having the kids work assignments that have similar questions to these tests. They skip over conceptual understanding entirely and replace it with rote regurgitation. Some things do require memorization, multiplication tables for example however many of you would be shocked how many elementary and middle schoolers do not know these but are expected to understand associative and commutative properties. Next time you see a 12 year old ask them what 7x8=, in most cases you won't like what you hear.

    On a completely different note, welcome back micromass :)
  7. May 6, 2015 #6


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  8. May 6, 2015 #7


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    I think it's the state and local testing, it varies even between school districts with the same city, it's not federally mandated.
  9. May 7, 2015 #8


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    I think there's a few different issues here.

    1. What do you want a school system to accomplish? Is their job to make certain knowledge available or is their job to produce educated students? One part of this is controllable by the school system - the other part isn't completely within their control.

    2. Is it good to measure the school system's performance? It takes time and money to measure things, so there is a cost to the measurements you make.

    3. How should you measure the school system's performance? Obviously, the answer to #1 will have a big influence on how this question is answered. #2 will have a major influence, as well.

    For example, if you do believe the school's job is to produce educated students, you could ask the students essay questions, complete labs with the accompanying lab reports, etc. That would be the expensive way to do it, but it would also get you more accurate answers. Or, you could ask multiple choice questions. Those are cheap, but will give a less thorough picture.

    4. What do you do with the results? The answer to this depends on the answer to #3. Cheap multiple choice tests can indicate you may have a problem in certain areas, but really won't do a good job pin-pointing what those problems are. Your options are to invest more time and money into figuring out why results in some areas were low or do things the cheap way and just fire people. After seeing their predecessors get fired, the new batch of people will work overtime for free to figure these things out on their own so they don't get fired, too. Or not. They could just look for a better job somewhere else.

    In other words, it sounds strange to identify "standardized testing" as the villain for our educational woes. There are reasons to use them. Just don't spend a $1.98 and expect your diamond ring to cut glass.
  10. May 7, 2015 #9
    Is all the standardized testing due to Common Core? From the articles read and videos I've watched, Common Core seems like a good idea that just needs to be refined.

    Anyway, my wife who is a teacher is a huge fan of Montessori schools.
  11. May 7, 2015 #10
    Huckeby recently announced that he will run for president. As I heard it, he wants the local school districts to determine what will be taught. In our district this would only be football. We don't need a Huckeby!
  12. May 7, 2015 #11
    I just took the PARCC, and I didn't have to sign any agreement. I can tell you that one of the questions was about an article about, get this, a fictional future where all of your clothes are scanned. I had to analyze what the character's feelings were despite there being no dialogue or background other than name, gender and age, in another question. Most of the questions are completely opinion based and would be perfectly suited to an English class where you are based on writing an analysis or essay outlining your thought process. Instead it was multiple choice with one correct answer for the one apparently correct interpretation based on absolutely nothing at all. The way to get the questions right is to figure out what they want to hear and say it.

    And in the mathematics section, no calculators are permitted and all of the difficulty comes from having to do long and tedious calculations either with limited scrap paper or in your head. One problem said something along the lines of "Three coffee beans weigh 3.3134 x 10^-7 and three rice grains weigh 6.9801 x 10^-8. How much more does a single coffee bean weigh than a single rice grain?".

    The biggest problem is the time. If we have 25 minutes of work to do, we get an hour and 15 minutes to do it. That is not an exaggeration. One boy next to me fell asleep because he was done at the 46 minute mark and he snored so loudly he woke up the other 4 kids I was testing with that were also sleeping. I was really surprised to hear in that vid that people were actually nervous about taking the PARCC. Sure, there were lots of questions you can't be reasonably expected to figure out, but the rest of them were stupidly easy. The few algebra questions were virtually all systems of equations that, again, relied on long calculations to be difficult, except we have so much time to do it that we can just check each of the answers for every single problem and still have time left over.

    After day 1 I filled my scrap paper every single day front and back with an essay critiquing the test, providing a psychological analysis of just how inaccurate and pointless it was, suggesting ways to fix it, and doing a question by question review with how to improve the questions to be better designed. Every single time I have to go on to the formula reference sheet if taking math, or ask for more paper is doing English, to fit all of it. I do all of this (though not the question review obviously) before I even open the test book to start, and I still get bored for having too much time.
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  13. May 7, 2015 #12


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    "Long and tedious"? I don't think so. The three coffee beans weigh 3.3134 x 10-7 (lb? kg?) and the three rice grains weigh .69801 x 10-7 (lb? kg?). Just subtract to get how much heavier the three coffee beans are than the three rice grains, and then divide that number by 3 to get the difference between a coffee bean and a rice grain. This is only slightly more complicated (the scientific notation) than kids used to do in US schools in sixth grade back in the 50s and 60s and before. Not to mention there were no calculators.
  14. May 7, 2015 #13


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    The state teachers' union (WEA) seems to be dead set against any mechanism for rating the performance of teachers.
  15. May 7, 2015 #14
    I think its a conflict of interest for the person doing the educating to also make up their own tests as an evaluation of their and their students performance. Its a conflict of interest many or most teachers are keen to keep for themselves.

    If standardized tests truly are not effective or meaningful then how can a non-standardized test somehow provide better data than a standardized test? What is the point of testing?
  16. May 7, 2015 #15


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    I doubt it. From what I gather, it's largely a result of Bush's No Child Left Behind. Schools are judged based on standardized test scores, so there's pressure on the schools and teachers to teach to the test. I've often heard high school teachers complaining about how they feel they have no choice but to do this in order to keep their jobs and stay out of trouble.
  17. May 8, 2015 #16


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    7X8 = 8X7
  18. May 8, 2015 #17
    The best education system in the world is apparently Finland. And guess what? The students have only one standardized test ever. I'm not saying that this fact alone explains why Finland's system is better than the USA's. But it sure gives evidence that standardized testing isn't really that important as the american politicians think it is.


    Here in Belgium, there are no standardized tests in high school at all! Schools are evaluated by an independent committee checking the classroom material, the classroom examination, etc. It seems to work fine for us.
  19. May 8, 2015 #18
    They exist for primary schools, OVSG for example which I took. I doubt this is obligatory though. (I did find a dutch blog talking about this if you are interested)
    They have open questions contrary to multiple choice tests.
  20. May 8, 2015 #19


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    As I recall, the big push for annual standardized testing began with the No Child Left Behind act, back in the Bush 43 era. Before that, individual states went at their own paces. (added: now I see Vela beat me to it.)
  21. May 8, 2015 #20


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    Everybody here are forgetting the Iowa Basic Skills tests which have been around since the 1950's long before Common Core.


    They were used in New York state and elsewhere in the early grades to measure student performance across the state. I never knew if they were used to improve individual student performance though as we never saw any result from the test unless our parents got something.

    In High School, we were given the NYS Regents tests which also measured performance, were used as the final exams of many courses and were used to dispense scholarship money to students attending colleges in NY state.


    We also took the SAT or ACT for college entrance as they became more and more popular. Now the testing industry has grown so large that they can lobby for additional tests which could lead to a future of test after test after test...
  22. May 8, 2015 #21


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    Which shows that the correct answer is ##7 \times 8 = 8! / 6!##
  23. May 8, 2015 #22

    Andy Resnick

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    The real problem, IMO, is not testing per se, but that test results are used to set school funding levels and impact teacher evaluations. That builds in incentive at all levels to replace instructional time with test-prep time. That, combined with the ever-increasing number of tests (there are 3 distinct standardized tests this year, two of these are taken multiple times: once at the beginning, once mid-way through the year, and once at the end of the school year), has completely altered the academic environment.

    It's helpful to review why these tests are omnipresent- there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the US public school system is not adequately preparing kids for adulthood- either in terms of job training, but also 'life skills'- being an informed citizen, able to read, write, and balance a checking account. There is also a contrary perception (rightly or wrongly) that kids should not repeat grades (i.e. social promotion).

    We can't have it both ways- require students graduating with a high school diploma to have a minimal skill set, but also requiring schools to graduate all students on schedule.
  24. May 8, 2015 #23
    My wife works at an inner city school. She works with small groups with really struggling kids. Kids who at grade 3 don't know the sounds letters make. Really tragic stuff. She does a lot of testing called MAPS. The problem is these kids never get read to at home and have no parental involvement. Teachers get some blame, but the reality is that kids need parents to work with their kids before they reach kindergarten and during elementary school or they will be behind.
  25. May 8, 2015 #24
    Yes, and after I took them, they advised not to do something math intensive.:wink:
  26. May 8, 2015 #25
    A more geometrical solution would say that this is the area of the rectangle of sides ##7## and ##8##.
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