STAR Testing Time

It is STAR testing time again. When public schools go into full test-prep mode. Homework stops, and studying test questions take precedence over general instruction. Parents are called upon to volunteer, and bring fresh snacks for peformance improvement of some kind. Like the introduction of healthy food will make a difference in the outcome. If a kid does not have a good blood sugar balance the other parts of the year (or even if they do), and if they don’t know the material by now, what difference does this dollop of nutrients make to actual learning? Is that what fruit does?

This hullabaloo over testing seems silly to me. I am a firm believer in education, but seldom do I see a more concerted effort to teach to the test than this. Our kids are supposed to know their material, and if they don’t, that should be borne out by testing. Then things can be adjusted to improve where it is needed. Yet the test score itself appears to be the goal, over and above learning or improving instruction.

This is not a dig at the schools or the staff. I know the testing issue is complicated, and not ideal, and it’s the reality they must deal with. Short-term thinking permeates so much of our culture, and real consequences follow these tests. That’s the part I am ranting about. The testing becomes some kind of competition, but not in a good way. It seems like a sad performance evaluation that, in the name of improving education, has devolved into a scramble to maintain the status quo, to keep your funding. So much rides on these tests, but what they measure most is the ability to take a test. It does not evaluate comprehension, or problem solving, or critical thinking. Rather, it’s like preparing for the Jeopardy of life. Nothing wrong with knowing facts and figures -it is important, and has its place, especially if you like Trivial Pursuit. The skills I use every day, however, were not on my SATs.

I had my own experience with the oddball nature of measuring achievement in high school. I received the distinct honor of an art award. It was great to be nominated for it, by a teacher I respected. That validation mattered to me. When I got to the next round, I was put into competition with the other artsy kids. The thing that got us there was our creative achievements, but the final, deciding component was a speech. It was clear that my art ability wasn’t going to be much help. I can’t draw a speech. I had some success with English, but I wasn’t that good at speech and debate. Besides, this was an arts competition, we should have been judged on our creative talent. I couldn’t put it into words at the time (obviously), but it felt wrong to judge us that way. The judges did not witness what got us nominated. There was no review of art, no performance of music or song, no watching of theater. They decided based on a speech.

When it comes to STAR testing, it seems like the kids and schools that are better at taking tests will win the competition, rather than being judged on ability, or measuring improvement, or gauging how well the teachers teach. It’s like they are being judged on a speech

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