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Karen Magee: Drawing Meaning From The Meaningless

The following post can be found on the WAMC Northeast Public Radio website.

By Karen Magee

Earlier this month, the State Education Department released student scores on state standardized tests. Yet, most of the media coverage centered on the 220,000 students who opted out of those tests.

Talk about poetic justice.

The real story, indeed, is how this parent-led movement is forcing policy-makers and the Legislature to revisit — and, hopefully reverse — harmful ‘test and punish’ educational policies. Whether the scores went up or down, parents understand the state tests results are virtually meaningless.

In many cases, the tests themselves were poorly written and not age or developmentally appropriate. In fact, the testing company — Pearson — did such a bad job designing these tests, the State Education Department recently fired them.

Parents also understand they get no useful information from these tests. Student scores are sent home near the end of the school year — too late to be of any use to teachers and without the critical information that parents — and teachers — need so they can use the data to better help students in the classroom.

And, parents understand that state tests are not being used properly. Good, fair tests can be used to measure what students know and are able to do, and help teachers see where students are succeeding and where they may need additional support or instruction. The state tests in English Language Arts, also known as E-L-A, and Math don’t do that, and they were never designed to measure teachers or to trigger sanctions against school districts. In fact, a growing body of research is showing that student test scores cannot be used reliably or accurately to measure teacher performance.

So, if there is a message at all in this recent kerfuffle over opt out and testing, it is this: Parents are smart. They do their homework. And, they put their children’s best interests first…

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