Lashing the anti-testing backlash

To protest curiousity-crushing test prep, Penn State Professor Timothy Slekar told his 11-year-old son to write “I prefer not to take your test” on the state exam.

He has been forced to complete worksheets in language arts and mathematics. He can alphabetize spelling words and find the main idea of a paragraph. He’s had practice in sequencing. He can round numbers. He can add, subtract, multiply and divide with fractions and decimals. And he has mastered the scripted art of estimating (Who knew there were incorrect estimates?). He has had multiple PSSA practice tests and according to these tests my son is ready.

. . . But what has been lost during these past five months? He sits in social studies and science classes that have been shortened to allow more time for reading and math instruction. He hasn’t been given the opportunity to engage real children’s literature.

Inspired by Slekar, a Pennsylvania mother opted her sons out of testing, falsely claiming a religious objection.

But there’s a backlash against the anti-testing backlash. At Jezebel’s Learning Curves, Anna North argues that testing is necessary, especially for children whose parents lack the “time, education and English proficiency” to monitor their children’s learning and spot when they’re falling behind.

Standardized testing is rarely fun — and it could almost certainly be improved — but it’s not nearly as antithetical to real, deep learning as its detractors suggest. Learning how to study will serve kids well throughout life — and while stimulating curiosity is important, most adults are probably glad our curiosity was supplemented by requirements from time to time.

If well-educated parents scuttle standardized testing, their children are likely to learn critical reading and math skills, North argues. Other people’s children may not.

Like North, I see no problem in teaching Pennsylvania children to find the main idea in a paragraph, or to add, subtract, multiply and divide with fractions and decimals, or to learn sequencing, rounding and estimating. Apparently, the school is teaching in a boring way and without integrating reading and math into history and science. But it is possible to teach reading comprehension and math skills without drudgery.

Standardized testing is not the devil,” writes Robert Pondiscio. “Test prep is the devil.” Time-wasting test prep is most likely to be a problem at high-poverty, low-performing schools, he adds.

At my South Bronx elementary school, we had a Teachers College consultant who encouraged us to ”teach tests as a genre of literature.”  But even that pales in comparison to a grad student of mine who was mandated to spend two hours per day on test prep from the first day of school.

Instead of boycotting the tests, parents should demand good teaching, Pondiscio writes.

. . . I would march into the school office the first day of school with the following bargain:  “I’m sure you agree the best test prep is great teaching and a robust curriculum, Ms. Principal.  So let’s keep our focus right there.  Don’t worry about spending my child’s time and your budget dollars on test prep materials. Because if they show up in our kids’ classrooms, we can promise our kids won’t be showing up for the test.”

Pro-testers think anti-testers are like parents who won’t vaccinate their children, suggests Alexander Russo.