Citing instability in the current system and changes that are coming over the next two to three years, Missouri school leaders believe that today’s release of the 2015 MAP test results highlight a need for policymakers at the state and federal level to re-evaluate an overemphasis on mandatory standardized testing.
While scores on state tests are important, they are only one piece used to measure the quality of the education students are receiving from the schools in their community. With the changes coming in education over the next couple of years, parents should know that schools will adjust to the mandates from the state and federal government accordingly. However, we should not lose sight that schools are responsible to the needs of their community and students first and foremost.
Last year marked the first time Missouri students were tested on the Common Core-aligned Missouri Learning Standards. Due to changes adopted by the Missouri Legislature in 2014 and 2015, schools will have to adjust to a new assessment again in 2016 and new state standards will go into place in 2017 or 2018. The new standards will require yet another new test.
If the state wants accurate data in order to compare one district to another or one state to another state, schools are going to need some consistency from policymakers at the top. With so many changes coming at us, our best bet is to continue focusing on our community and looking beyond what the state or federal government has in store for us.
The 2015 tests were also given entirely online which create challenges for students to adjust from the pencil and paper tests that have been used in the past. School leaders point out the potential for an inherent bias with online assessments that needs to be considered when evaluating how a school or student performed.
Students come to school with varying degrees of comfort with technology. The kids most affected are those from low-income families that don’t have access to a computer or Internet. We want to make sure we are evaluating a student’s knowledge and not just their ability to use the technology.
There is a bigger conversation that must be had according to school leaders. Annually tests are typically used by school districts to identify deficiencies in their curriculum and identify where teachers may need to focus their attention. However, under federal law (No Child Left Behind) and state policy (Missouri School Improvement Program), the results on state-mandated tests have also been used to rank schools and students.
While the intent of policymakers in developing this system was good, parents and educators are starting to see flaws in the way the system has evolved. In its 46th Annual Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward Public Schools, Gallup found that 68% of public school parents felt like standardized tests are not helpful to teachers. Additionally, the Missouri State Teachers Association released results of a survey of more than 5,700 teachers earlier this year which revealed that over two-thirds of Missouri teachers believe the state focuses too much on the results of standardized tests.
It’s important to note that, by and large, we test in four areas: math, English, social studies and science, but the standardization that comes along with this testing is a challenge for schools because the test prep culture is contradictory to what our teachers know engages students. Students want to focus on areas that are interesting to them, sometimes that is math or English, but for some it is health or music or art.
The standardization that comes with a system that focuses so heavily on test scores may be preventing school systems from turning out students that are prepared to succeed in the future. Additional work performed by Gallup in 2013 showed that students in grades 5-12 that were determined to be “success-ready” scored high in three measures: 1) Hope, 2) Engagement, and 3) Well-Being.
More than a score on a state test, schools and teachers need to be focused on working to inspire students to develop the skills they need to be successful in their life, whether that be in college or in a career. Sometimes those things will show up in a test score but a lot of those skills cannot and should not be standardized.
So what should parents take away from the results that were released today?
It’s like using the number on a scale to determine a person’s overall health. Take these scores for what they are: students’ performance in three subject areas on a single test at a single point in time at the end of the 2015 school year.