Educators rally to minimize tests

Controversy over movement to limit standardized testing

Adah Koivula

Minnesota lawmakers work to replace the No Child Left Behind law with a system of accountability, in the face of an Education Policy Innovation Center paper released in late August.

Education Minnesota president Denise Specht said using a single test score as an indicator of academic progress fails to describe the big picture.

“The current system has narrowed what is taught, encouraged schools and districts to purchase simplistic curricula and diverted attention from some of the most important factors that affect teaching quality and student learning,” Specht said.

Specht said standardized testing moves schools away from teaching students proper life skills.

“Schools should inspire and engage students while teaching them critical thinking, problem solving and all the other skills that lead to successful lives,” Specht said.

Science teacher Patrick Hartman said the inability for these tests to report progress creates a weakness.

“A teacher could be doing amazing things, but if a student who started off below the standard makes amazing progress but ends below the standards, it shows they didn’t make any progress,” Hartman said.

Schools adjust their curriculum and teach to the test, Specht said, spending too much time on test preparation rather than actually learning.

“We’ve swapped learning time for testing time and deep learning for bubble-filling,” Specht said.

She said standardized tests shift the focus from the emotional aspect of teaching to score reports.

“The focus on assessment should return to the classroom and benefit teachers and individual students,” Specht said.

She said removing the tests would be ideal, but realizes limiting tests provides a more feasible solution.

“(Limiting tests) frees up more time for authentic learning — more time to learn how to learn,” Specht said.

The option on the table right now, according to Specht, involves creating a better system of assessments and accountability for schools. She said this means reducing the total number of tests in certain grades.

“We believe the state should administer fewer, better standardized tests,” Specht said. “Administering fewer tests would also free up money spent on test preparation materials and the tests themselves.”

Junior Desmond Ferraro-Hauck said he dislikes standardized testing because it turns students into numbers.

“It’s a stressful, representative poll of students to do well and if you don’t do well it has a negative impact,” Ferraro-Hauck said. “I spend a lot of time taking tests.”

Park testing coordinator Prachee Mukherjee standardized tests provide crucial information about academic achievement for educators, according to Park Testing Coordinator Prachee Mukherjee.

Mukherjee said that it has been more of a push against common core standards in combination with standardized and state tests. But, Mukherjee said that there are downsides to such a push.

“In the absence of standardized tests, we would have poor alternatives to assess whether instruction actually made an impact,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee said removing standardized tests would create gaps in data on student performance.

“We would lose the ability to determine if we are closing the racial achievement gap, specifically with respect to Minnesota academic standards,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee said the movement to remove standardized testing and the common core standards misses an important point.

“I would ask, who initiated these demands and whose perspectives are missing,” Mukherjee said. “Who is overly advantaged or disadvantaged if these demands come to pass.”