Too Much For Tests to Bear by Clara Hemphill

Too Much For Tests to Bear by Clara Hemphill

NY Times

Clara Hemphill is senior editor at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. She is the founding editor of Insideschools.org and the author of New York City’s Best Public Elementary Schools.

You could almost hear a collective groan in the city’s schools when the Department of Education announced it would require still more tests.

Principals, parents and even the children know perfectly well who the good teachers in any school are.

Parents, teachers and certainly the children are weary of the standardized tests that have sapped so much of the joy from the classroom and pushed so many teachers to replace creative, imaginative lessons with timid and defensive ones.

And to what purpose? Principals, parents and even the children know perfectly well who the good teachers in any school are: their classes have perfect attendance even in schools where overall attendance is poor. Their pupils settle down to work without any wasted time, even when classrooms down the hall are chaotic. Students of good teachers tell their parents all the things they learned that day, and principals of good teachers show off their rooms to visitors.

As a society, we keep looking for an inexpensive and scientific way to evaluate teacher quality because we don’t trust principals — and certainly not the children — to tell us who is doing a good job. We look for a measure that is seen as fair and objective. Standardized tests seem to provide that.

The tests do serve a useful, if limited, purpose. Designed to show whether a child has mastered certain basic skills, they may be used as a diagnostic tool if a child is in academic trouble. But the tests are not precise instruments, and they are certainly not designed to determine who or what was responsible for any gains a child may have made — a good teacher, an attentive parent, a private tutor, or an ordinary growth spurt.

Sadly, the city puts more weight on standardized tests than they are designed to bear.

 

 

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