Standardized tests are part of bigger picture

  • Saturday, December 3, 2016 2:23pm
  • Opinion

Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development on Thursday announced the selection of a new vendor to provide annual standardized testing services to school districts across the state.

Data Recognition Corp., based in Minnesota, will provide tests for students starting 2017. The move comes after the state dropped its former vendor, the Achievement and Assessment Institute in Kansas, due to technical glitches in administering the tests, and concern from educators over the validity and usefulness of the test results. The test itself, educators noted, was good; the main complaint is that the results were not compiled and presented in a way that would be useful in plotting student development.

And if test results aren’t useful, there’s not much point in requiring the test.

Where the Achievement and Assessment Institute was a newcomer to statewide standardized testing, Data Recognition Corp. has been in business since 1978; we hope the experience results in a more useful assessment of our students’ academic progress.

That said, we’d like to point out that, standardized testing or not, our students are being measured on an ongoing basis. The reason for the expensive testing – Alaska’s annual budget for testing is $4.5 million, $3.5 million of which is being paid by the federal government – is that not every district is using the same tools to evaluate students, and politicians saw such tests as a way to hold local school districts accountable for student performance.

The theory certainly looks good on paper, and No Child Left Behind did have some positive results, requiring school districts to track student progress across a wide spectrum of categories. But it also ushered in the era of unfunded mandates on school districts, and had the effect of taking many decisions out of the hands of local school boards and administrations. With penalties for not making adequate yearly progress, it was in each school district’s best interest to get as many students as possible to the “proficient” level – in effect, encouraging everyone to be average.

No Student Left Behind has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which promises to return some decisions on how best to educate students to state and local control. The statewide assessment is still required, though states are now given the responsibility of measuring student and school performance, rather than being forced into the federal government’s one size fits all framework.

We hope that the new tests provide educators with much more useful information on student performance that can better direct state and local education policy.

But we also know that an annual standardized test should represent one small part of the academic growth of students and the performance of teachers, schools and school districts. We’re sure Kenai Peninsula Borough students will do well on any test, but we know there are many more ways to track student progress from kindergarten to graduation, and one test only tells part of the story.

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