From the Principal's Office: What Are Standardized Tests Preparing Our Kids For?

2/21/2013 12:00:00 AM
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Over the weekend, an interesting article titled "A warning to college profs from a high school teacher" ran in The Washington Post's Answer Sheet Column. The article, which has generated well over 1,000 comments already, was written by award-winning high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein from Washington, D.C.  Despite the article's title, Bernstein is really sending a warning to all of us about the current reality concerning our students and the climate of testing that has overtaken our educational system.  

His concluding paragraph sums up his thoughts:

Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.

While Bernstein's conclusion is very general, he also cites some concrete reasons for the state of the current crop of students heading out of our public high schools being ill-prepared for what is ahead of them.

...most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.

According to Bernstein, these problems also carry over into Advanced Placement courses due to the nature of the AP Exams. As a teacher who spent time scoring the writing portion on the exams, he saw limitations in the scoring mechanism.

If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words.

Unfortunately, with PARCC testing due to commence in 2015 for our students, we are looking ahead to even more time spent on standardized testing and not less.

cross-posted at www.patrickmlarkin.com

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at www.patrickmlarkin.com.

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