Jewish World Review May 18, 2003 / 17 Iyar, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
It's no mystery why teachers unions and school boards oppose
standardized achievement tests and exit exams. When they're falling short,
they're not eager to announce it.
It's no mystery why students don't like tests. Some fail. Some
struggle. Others aren't challenged. There's no instant gratification. Some
students have such a strong sense of entitlement that they've come to
believe they're supposed to enjoy almost everything they do in school.
The mystery is why so many parents -- especially affluent
parents -- would oppose testing. You'd think parents would be embarrassed to
voice this opinion in public, because it's so anti-education -- except they
are so uninformed as to not even understand what they're against.
So let me explain.
1. Tests like the STAR test diagnose problems in individual
students' learning. Middle-class parents may think their kids are getting a
great education, but STAR can red-flag a learning disability or signal that
Buffy failed to learn a math skill. Discover the problem early, and Buffy
doesn't fall further behind.
2. Standardized tests highlight what is working. When the Open
Court reading program raised reading scores in Sacramento, and demonstrated
weaker performance in the five schools that used a different reading series,
it showed Sacramento what worked. Superintendents of other districts also
could see tangible results.
3. Low test results shame schools to improve. Low-performing
schools have been able to benefit greatly. Oakland Unified, for example,
adopted Open Court to boost its dismal reading scores, and student literacy
4. The California exit exam has forced students and schools
alike to make sure that those who weren't learning much in high school at
least graduate with a minimal level of reading and math skills.
University of Southern California geophysicist and education
activist Martha Schwartz told me that while standardized tests generally
have facilitated improvements in early education, the exit exam has brought
improvement -- such as remedial reading programs for high school students --
for older kids who often have been the last to benefit from education
reforms. "I don't think that anybody would be trying to do that if it
weren't for the fear of the exit exam," Schwartz said -- and she had lobbied
against the exit exam.
5. All students who go to a California state college or
university benefit from the exit exam and standardized tests.
In 2002, 51 percent of entering freshmen were proficient in
English; 63 percent were proficient in math. Those who aren't proficient are
placed in remedial classes -- a huge drain on the California State
University budget. When more freshmen are actually ready for college, there
is more money for CSU to spend on real college classes.
As an aside, let me stipulate that the California Department of
Education should work to eliminate redundancies and reduce the hours of test
giving. An education official recently told me that experts are looking into
reducing the number of essays in the English Language Arts portion of the
exit exam, so that there's less of a "fatigue factor" from reading writing
sample after writing sample. There's also talk of reducing the number of
word problems in the math portion.
In a recent San Francisco Chronicle story, some students told reporter
Meredith May that they put in minimal effort -- some just fill in bubbles --
on achievement tests because they don't get anything out of it. If they
didn't get a grade or the OK to graduate, they didn't care.
It's too bad that in the course of their education, these
students and their parents never figured out that students should take the
tests because they owe something in return for their free education; when
they take the test, they help students who follow them. As for those parents
who think that their children's time is so precious it shouldn't be spent on
testing, in a vocabulary test, the word you'd check off for them is
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate