School Testing- One more reason why it sucks

According to this article, high school students as Sacramento High School may have failed a state exam on purpose.

Sacramento High is in a state of limbo right now. It’s always been a tough school- about as “inner city” as it gets in Sacramento. Because they did not improve test scores, they face “reorganization”- which means anything from the whole staff being fired, to the school being taken over by a for profit organization. Right now nobody really knows what’s going to happen except that something big is going to change, and the needs of the students arn’t really the highest thing on the list when decideing what happens.

So then this story comes out. Apparenly the stats on test score look suspect. The white kids scores dropped 30%, while Latino and Asian scores rose and African-American scores dropped slightly. Some people allege that white students were failing the test intentionally, in order to force out the black principal. Other say that teachers purposefully downplayed the importance of the exam for the same reason.

What does this mean for the concept of school testing? Kids arn’t dumb, nor are teachers. It seems like they’ve quickly learned that test scores can be used for all kinds of manipulations. School testing is a fundamentally flawed concept because it reduces something as complex as a school to a set of numbers, and it mandates actions made up by people who are not professional educators and have little understanding of what is good or bad for students. I won’t be surprised to hear of a lot more cases like this.

I don’t think the concept is flawed. I think it is a pretty good idea to make sure that students actually know a little about math, reading comprehension, and how to write a proper paragraph prior to graduation. I would have to agree that how they go about the testing and what they do with the results can be terribly flawed.

Poor test results can lead to a loss of funding or other punitive actions by the state. This puts a lot of pressure on administrators and teachers to make sure that as many students pass as possible. In Texas this has resulted in many schools spending 1-2 weeks teaching students how to take the test. They’re afraid of losing funding or otherwise being punished.

On the other hand if a student slated to graduate can’t pass the test during his senior year then there is a serious problem.


MGibson: the problem, as has been pointed out, is that students have the option of failing on purpose for nefarious schemes. Heck, were I still in high school, I may well get a petition signed that states that should they keep the dress code/0-tolerance policy/not fire a horrible teacher, X people would deliberately fail all standardized tests.
Yet another argument to majorly overhaul the public school system.

Standardized testing is flawed and grossly overused. Yes, I think that occasional standardized tests are needed, because there are many teachers who don’t teach and just pass everyone, students who don’t learn yet graduate, and there needs to be some sort of standard measure for graduation criteria.

But let’s analyze the situation. I’m a junior in high school this year. Public school, but one of the best districts in the state according to test scores. And I have taken at least one standardized test every year. Every single year of my public school career, we’ve dedicated about six hours to filling in bubbles. IOWAs, CAT, GEPA, NSRA, NSRE, HSPA, HSPT. I’ve also now taken the PSATs twice. This year, I took the PSAT, will take the HSPT (might be HSPA now, not sure, doesn’t matter anyway), SAT, and ACT. All right, fine, PSAT, SAT, ACT are all my choice to take. It’s rediculous, though. In first grade, the Standardized Test of the Year (STOTY, because cryptic acronyms seem to be very fitting ot the topic) said I was reading at something like a ninth-grade level (partly because I’m just freakish like that), and my math skills were slightly less, but still above average. Yet I still needed tot ake the same test (at a different level, of course) the next year.

Test scores can very, very easily be manipulated. You just fill in the wrong answer. Even open-ended questions (which are starting to get popular) can easily be left blank. And I can think of one exam in my case (which I’m about to take this coming week) which I must pass to graduate. Had I wanted to, and it’s been VERY tempting sometimes, any past year, I could have just botched the test. Public schools as a whole need to be re-looked-at, and standardized tests need to be toned down and made way less promenant. It just results in teachers teaching to the test, and that, AFAIK, is something that’s highly discouraged by good teachers.

I’m also a junior in High Schoo - you’re right on, NinjaChick. The standardized tests my state gives are basically what takes up the entire curriculum at my school. Most subjects teach to the test, and offer “incentives” to us to score on the highest level, as that = more funding. I was one of two students who made the highest level (in math and science) last year , and the first to get the highest level for my school (in math and science, again… there were a couple high scores in the freshman test… P.E. and Health, but none in the L.A./ Social Studies test). My friend was the other high score-er, and we’re both on the Cross Country team… which got a big funding booth this year. We were both congratulated by the school board and it was a big deal (it’s a small town…).
I agree that public schools as a whole need to be re-evaluated; teaching what to mark on a test isn’t good teaching.

Man, I definately think standardized testing sucks. Kids spend way too much time these days stressing out about tests.

Especially on tests likes the SAT’s, where you have to know huge amounts of strange vocabulary that you’ll probably never use for the rest of your life. What exactly is the point? How does knowing a bunch of really long useless words make one person smarter than someone else? All it really means to me is that one person spent 4 hours with their nose in a dictionary while the other person was doing something more useful.

I have a real hard time understanding the objection to standardized tests. Should we have un-standardized tests? That would make it hard to compare students in different classes, shools, districts, etc. Should we have no tests? How, then, would we measure what students have learned? Oh, “grades” you say. OK, how are grades determined?

I personally was glad for standardized tests. I was an obnoxious little white trash child with the “wrong religion” for my area. Standardized tests were the only place where I was treated fairly.

If things are so screwed up that students are deliberately failing the test then maybe the school really does need to be radically changed. Look, I’m not exactly a cheerleader for these tests. I think the concept of testing is valid I just don’t like how they go about the testing or what they do with the results.


Actually it means that most of them spent the time figuring out how to break apart words into their roots. From there they can go on to define words they’ve never heard before.


For a comical note on this subject/topic, i will note that scoring high on a test never won a war.

Well from my experience, most test accurately assess how well a student knows the material. But many of these tests incorporate the effort that a students places in studying for that test. I know for damn sure that i understand more information than many peeple on the SAT. The fact is that my school did not force the techniques involved in scoring high on the SAT. Well, maybe the SAT is just bias anyways and not very effective. My problem with the SAT is the timed format that it works with, but i am now tinkering off the main subject. Tests are made to get students to learn things. This does create an incentive for “most” students. The ones that have less regard for the tests usu. are beond the point of passing anyways and become passive towards the tests. The only problem that i can really see in tests is that the people that know less sometimes come out on top because he/she put more effort into studying and answered correctly on a few more of the specific-detailed questions. Now come the question: Should grades reward effort?

The concern here, if I’m understanding other post correctly, and in general is that instead of being taught enough to do well on the test, the school system has adopted the “will this be on the test*” method of study.

The problem is that, and the weight of the evidence supports this, zillions of students are graduating from high school without being close to prepared to read street signs and count their money. So we looked to the teachers… who seemed a bit dim. So now we make everyone jump through test hoops which does a little bit toward getting some students up to speed, and lot toward boring the life out of good students.

The state of our schools is terrifying. Really.
*Those of us who are out of school and still there are certainly familiar with people who only studied what would be on the test. To me, it seemed like a harder way to work, but what do I know - I’m a reader.

I teach high school in Chicago and we have numerous standardized tests that compare our school to others in the city as well as others in the state. The dirty little secret that many don’t understand about standardized tests is that the vast majority of the students who take them do not try very hard on them. Why not? Because the score they receive does not affect their grade in any particular class. Appealing to them to try their best so that the school can get off probation or appear to be more prestigious might work on 5% of the students, but the rest will put in minimal effort because they don’t see how it impacts them personally. Releasing their individual scores to prospective colleges might cause more students to try harder, but that won’t motivate the ones that have no plans to go to college (which at my school is 70% of the Senior class.) That is why too much emphasis should not be placed on these tests.

I’m a junior in high school, as well, and I can tell you that me and my friends take great enjoyment in messing with these tests.

I don’t want to whine, complain, or to try and come across as some bad ass rebel, but the truth is, we’re just not very happy. Our building is like a massive prison complex, we have a uniform policy in a public school, kids are suspended for espousing unpopular views, and the education is utter crap.

Some of the teachers are great, and I really do love them, but the administration and the government really make it a miserable place. Then, the standards are set so low that I go wild when I have a chance to apply myself, as with the psychological survey I’ve done in IMHO.

The sabotage is done for different reasons. Apathy, boredom, rebellion. I use writing tests as a forum for expressing protest and dissatisfaction. Before anyone scolds me, I know very well what I’m doing and I accept any consequences for my actions.

(I can elaborate or give details if anyone is interested. I’m a bit strapped for time as it is.)

The thing I love about these tests is that the teachers could spend the time they take showing the kids how to take the test and devote it to something more useful…like, maybe, teaching, for instance?

Wait… let me see if I’ve got this…

The schools that do well on the standardized tests get more money?

Does this seem completely wrong to anyone else?

Wouldn’t it seem that the schools that do badly could use the most help?

In Kentucky, anyway, schools are judged based on how well they improve their scores over so many years. Those that do especially well get money for “rewards”. Theoretically, this money goes toward bonuses for teachers, but this is politically unpopular for some reason, so it often funds special programs within the school. (Why people can’t make the connection between motivated teachers and better teaching, and between bonuses and more motivated teachers, I’ll never understand.)

Schools that perform particularly poorly are given a chance to get it together, after which they are declared to be “in crisis”. A Distinguished Educator is sent in by the state to examine how the school does things, with almost dictatorial power over every aspect of the school’s operation. It may not have ended up this way, but at first the idea was that the DE could fire tenured teachers who weren’t up to snuff. This is, to put it bluntly, a Bad Thing, but there are funds available to help the flagging schools; the whole reform was movitated by a Supreme Court decision declaring our school system unconstitutional due to poorly distributed funds.

My mother, a middle school teacher who has seen both sides of this and who has been at the forefront for most of it, says that their system is very similar to a lot of what has been proposed at the national level. There are good and bad points; yes, they teach to the test a lot of the time, but in some cases, that’s better that teaching to nothing at all.

Dr. J

Sad fact is, there is no good, easy answer. Parents and politicians understandably want to know whats going on at all their schools. Testing is the only fair way to achieve this, and a once-every-two-years test seems fair.

I went to a Catholic school, and got a first rate elementary and Junior High education. We were never taught to the test, though they did show us the basic multiple-choice strategy.

ANythiung else on the test they taught us as part of our normal courseork, like vocabulary, math, and science. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing on the test that was given to us just because it was on the test. In any event, if a test is comprehensive and it changes, then the teachers shouldn’t have any particular onus for “teaching to the test”. I mean, the students should all know it anyway.

That’ll show 'em! I am sure that in future years you and your friends will take great pleasure in remembering these anecdotes on your breaks at McDonalds and before you head home to your room above the garage at your parent’s house.

Actually, it’s pretty simple.

How well a school does is often a direct reflection on the background of the students. For the most part, rich (and white) schools do better on tests. Schools experiencing improvment are likely to be schools in areas undergoing gentrification- not inner city schools pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Now if your salary was tied to what school you taught at, wouldn’t you try pretty hard to get hired on at one of the better schools? Teaching in a poor school is hard enough without you getting paid less for it. All the good teachers are going to want to get into the good schools, leaving the poor and harder-to-improve schools with the worst teachers in the system- exactly wha these schools don’t need.

I went to a very poor high school. When California was voting on if they should link teacher pay to school performance, I had teachers say that while they love teaching us, it’s just plain not worth it if it’s also going to cause them to take a financial hit. Of course they’re gonna want to go teach in some easy rich suburb and get paid better for it. We had a hard enough time retaining good teacher as it was.

That’s because school is meant to prepare children for rewarding careers in our nations factories, offices and call centers. I hate to tell you this but 90% of the work people do in thier adult lives is just as mundane, boring and monotonous as the stuff you learn in school.

More usefull like what? Watching Ja Rule videos and playing X Box? Improving your vocabulary and math skills are probably the two most important things a person can do to become more successful in life. Besides, even if you don’t use “big words” in your daily conversations, you should understand what they mean when you hear them.

Not really. If you think of it as investing in our childrens future, you want the greatest return on that investment. So in other words, you would put money into the schools where the students seem most promising.

Sounds to me like the standardized test is doing it’s job. If a significant % of students are unmotivated enough to put any effort into the test, that could indicate a problem with the school.
There is nothing wrong with the concept of standardized tests. The provide useful benchmarks and metrics for measuring school performance. The problem is, like with any other metric, people often fail to understand the limits and usefulness of what the measurement can tell you.