Editorial: The key to standardized tests is how we use them

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted3/5/2015 7:26 AM

It is becoming next to impossible to keep up with the explosion of capital letters related to assessing what students or prospective students know. ISAT, PSAE, IAA, DLM-AA, NAEP, TIMSS, PSAT, ACT, SAT, PSAT, GMAT, LSAT ...

And now, PARCC, a controversial new measure with a title only educators could come up with -- the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. As the Daily Herald's Madhu Krishnamurthy described in a story for Wednesday's Daily Herald, this latest iteration of standardized tests is generating a whole new round of fear and trembling -- not merely among students, where you might expect it, but also among the many other stakeholders in a child's education, parents, teachers, school administrators and even politicians.


The critics' wariness is not without foundation. Our compulsion to compartmentalize learning and homogenize teaching has led to a virtual canonization of testing and a temptation for teachers and schools to compress instruction to fit within the contours of standardized assessment rather than to expand it to suit the needs of 21st Century adulthood.

But there is at least equal danger in the backlash to that approach, and the situation is not helped by the politicization of the issue among those determined to assail every aspect of the Common Core initiative simply because it emanated from the Obama administration and by those educators suddenly concerned about having their performance evaluated according to rigorous standards they helped establish.

There is plenty within Common Core that demands close watching, to be sure, and neither teachers nor administrators can be faulted for their nervousness about how quickly the PARCC process was implemented in Illinois. But it's important to keep in mind that the process is a response to years of criticism of the quality and inconsistency of American education, and is specifically constructed to address skills long demanded by employers -- greater critical thinking ability, stronger written and verbal communication, higher-level math and science knowledge. This, too, at a time when American students' academic performance has steadily declined in comparison to that of students in Europe, Japan and other industrialized nations,

It may be that we're moving a little too fast to implement these tests in Illinois. It may be that authorities should rethink making this year's results a benchmark for the future. But the difficulties with implementing a massive undertaking like the PARCC testing process should not nullify the test itself or the concept behind it. We should all applaud a realistic, rigorous approach to assessing what our students are learning. We just have to also demonstrate a skill the testing process itself emphasizes -- the ability to thoughtfully and wisely apply what we learn.

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