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How Important Are Standarized Tests?

Common Core Standards will go into effect 2014. The new testing, SPHS Principal Janet Anderson says, will focus “less on applications and more on thinking through concepts."

Cramming for tests is a common procedure for college students. But is the same happening in high school?

Local parents and students say yes—at least in math—

“The math standards have driven the expectations of students at a much higher level than they ever were before,” said Superintendent Joel Shapiro.

Because of this increased complexity, he says, math tutoring is an industry that is continuing to grow. But “I wish it weren’t the case,” he admits.

In December, held a meeting to explain Common Core Standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and will go into effect 2014. The standards, according to its website, "are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers."

Anderson explains: It will focus “less on applications and more on thinking through concepts." In other words, the curriculum will be “more application-driven.”

Importance of Testing

Gov. Jerry Brown said in his recent State of the State Address: "Yes, we should demand continuous improvement in meeting our state standards but we should not impose excessive or detailed mandates."

He suggested a site visitation program where each classroom in the state is visited, observed and evaluated, and said he would work with the State Board of Education to develop this proposal.

"We think the governor is on the right track," Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, told The Sacramento Bee. "We think the emphasis on high-stakes testing has really got us on the wrong track. You see less emphasis on the arts, drama, music—those kinds of electives."

At SPUSD’s in October, one parent asked that administrators work to make “truly special” rather than relying on test scores to set the bar.

But Shapiro and school principals insisted that the district does have a well-rounded curriculum.

Principal Joe Johnson cited Artist in Residence program, in which each grade level at the district's three elementary schools receive an eight-week rotation of a teaching artist who visits for 90 minutes weekly. The district contracted SPACE to host these art classes last year when art teachers were let go because of budget cuts.

“I think we do a very good job ... of not putting all our eggs in the STAR Test basket so to speak,” Shapiro told parents that night. “I think there are many districts that judge all of their success on those test scores. … We understand and agree that they are rather limited in information that they give.”

“If we felt it was the only thing we focus on, we would be doing our kids a disservice,” he continued.

Correction: This article originally stated Joe Johnson is the principal of Patch regrets the error.

Kristen Lepore February 09, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Thanks, SP Mom. We fixed the error.
Gary Rowe February 09, 2012 at 09:04 PM
A test’s value depends on its content. Test trivial, or picky, or stupid things, and you have a test that is worthless at best and quite possibly pernicious. In South Pasadena, what do the high-stakes standardized tests we give our students – on which we rely on to judge our curriculum and teachers – actually measure? Consider this lovely piece that recently appeared in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/schoolbook/2012/01/20/dear-governor-lobby-to-save-a-love-of-reading/?hp A group of professors and humanities scholars with elementary school children tried their hands at reading comprehension questions from New York’s 3d grade standardized test. The four participants, it turned out, could not agree on the correct answer to a question about the reading passage’s main idea; each had different interpretations of just what was most important in the passage. Indeed, contrary to the call of the question, they thought that, rather than having a single main idea, the passage contained multiple themes subject to weighing, interpretation, and debate. In the end, they found that this representative reading test passage was not only “banal,” but did students “a double disservice: first, by inflicting on them such mediocre literature, and second, by training them to read not for pleasure but to discover a predetermined answer to a (let’s not mince words) stupid question.” (to be continued below . . .)
Gary Rowe February 09, 2012 at 09:31 PM
(. . . continued from above) Indeed, by “trying to reduce the work to a single idea,” the reading test managed to undermine precisely the kinds of reading skills we should be instilling in our students. Are our standardized reading tests fundamentally different in nature than New York’s? Have administrators taken them for each grade level and personally assessed their quality and validity? Are our questions any less boring and oblivious to literary quality, any less disdainful of analytical depth and the value of interpretation, any less reductive than New York’s? If not, then might the bulk of our elementary school curriculum -- which let’s face it teaches to the test more than anything else -- be worthy of reconsideration? Shouldn’t we in fact – as I asked at the October PTA forum -- strive to be a “truly special” district that offers a robust curriculum emphasizing creativity and deep analysis rather than one that merely seeks ever-higher scores on standardized tests -- tests that quite possibly measure the wrong things?
Gary Rowe February 23, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Here is a quote from education historian Diane Ravitch's latest article, "No Student Left Untested," which criticizes New York's decision to evaluate teachers partly on the basis of standardized test scores: " Across the nation, in response to the prompting of Race to the Top, states are struggling to evaluate their teachers by student test scores, but none has figured it out. [ ] All such schemes rely on standardized tests as the ultimate measure of education. This is madness. The tests have some value in measuring basic skills and rote learning, but their overuse distorts education. No standardized test can accurately measure the quality of education. Students can be coached to guess the right answer, but learning this skill does not equate to acquiring facility in complex reasoning and analysis. It is possible to have higher test scores and worse education. The scores tell us nothing about how well students can think, how deeply they understand history or science or literature or philosophy, or how much they love to paint or dance or sing, or how well prepared they are to cast their votes carefully or to be wise jurors." http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/feb/21/no-student-left-untested/ Can we in South Pasadena become a model for other school districts, display some serious courage, and stop the madness -- focusing not at all on test scores and an awful lot more on the creative and analytic aspects of education?
Kristen Lepore February 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Thanks for sharing these links, Gary. What are your suggestions for enriching curriculum at SPUSD?

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