Are standardized tests undermining real education? Or are they the ground floor upon which accountability is built?
Probably both. For poor schools and undisciplined teachers, looming tests are a motivation to stay focused and stick to curriculum. For good schools with teachers adept in their craft — the case in Weston, most times — too much testing can eat up valuable time and may straitjacket creativity.
School should be about learning, not just grades, not just tests.
Curriculum should be designed to give students a broad base of knowledge they will need in later education and in life; it should teach them to think in an organized way and to think critically; it should seek to open their minds — awakening interests that will be the foothold of lifelong learning.
Classrooms should be focused on student learning, not on achieving tests scores. School administrations looking at ways to improve scores on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test and the Connecticut Mastery Test is not an unreasonable thing to do — if the effort is kept in perspective. The state tests provide a snapshot of how students are doing.
Properly used, the standardized tests are a form of feedback that can focus school officials’ attention on areas where work is needed as they go about their continuing effort to improve the job the schools do.
But, at the same time, they must still be wary of teaching to the test.
Students are individuals, and the goal is to develop their abilities, to prepare and inspire them. This “number one town” stuff is, in truth, an artificial framework of comparison. That should be kept in mind.
The benefit of standardized testing is that it places Weston in a landscape of other students’ performance, and gives teachers and administrators that broader perspective on the school system’s strengths and weaknesses.
The danger is that the school higher-ups will focus too narrowly on test scores, communicate to teachers that this is the primary concern, and end up with students prepared for the state tests, but not for the real world.
Testing should guide the educational agenda, not take it over.