Wasting Away

At school today, we are administering one of the annual standardized tests to the students. I am in favor of standardized testing. My wife and I used to own a private school, and since we were not awash in government money, we graded the standardized tests ourselves. After four years of that, I realized something: they work. The students who are farther along in school score higher on standardized tests. The tests measure what they should and provide data on each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

My problem is with how terribly testing is conducted.

A high school student has 35 test sessions in a school year, almost all of them measuring the same thing: readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. Each session represents about a third of a school day, so each student spends 12 of their 180 school days on a standardized test. This doesn’t count the 6 days of final exams or the 3 days of test prep, and it doesn’t count regular classroom tests.

Twelve days is too many days. It’s inefficient. Think of it in business terms. In prorating a school year to a business year, this is the equivalent of shutting down 24 times a year. On January 15, you will close and accept no income. (I’m equating “business income” and “school learning.”) All employees will spend the day evaluating how the business is functioning.

That’s a good day, isn’t it? It better be, because you’re going to do the same thing on January 30. Keep in mind that you won’t have the data scored from your January 15 session and keep in mind you’re accepting no income again. That’s OK, because if there’s anything your business needs, it’s an income drop of 10%.

Keep playing this scenario out. As much as the value dropped on January 30, now picture February 15 and beyond. Twenty-four days a year is too many days. Taking this back to the school model, if we asked business to do this twice a season (summer, winter, fall, spring), it would seem absurd. However, those eight days would be four in school year time. Currently, students are doing twelve, three times that figure, which I identified as absurd anyway. This isn’t a testing plan, it’s a Stanley Kubrik movie.

I’m not suggesting we stop testing; I’m suggesting we write a better test. Surely, we could find the data with one test instead of thirty five. Surely, in this day and age, we could write a test that a young person could jump online and take in less than an hour, score it immediately, and send the data right out to teachers and parents. In New Mexico, we paid $11 million dollars to join the most recent testing group du jour. For our 11 million, we got a test that is no better or worse than the one we replaced. Pay me $11 million, and I can put together a good test, one that is just as accurate and takes less school time.

Don’t stop testing, just stop sucking at it.

Ryil Adamson is the author of “The Best-Looking One Always Wins,” which is about presidential elections.

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