“What is your stance on standardized testing?”
This is one of the consistent questions we receive from prospective RUCA families, and it’s one of the more interesting ones we field. Some parents ask because they want their child to avoid standardized testing. Others ask because they want their child’s achievement to be commonly measured. At Riverstone, we encourage students to register for the SAT and/or ACT, depending on where in the world their college or university is located, but we don’t administer the PSSA or Keystone exams.
Although intentions for K-12 standardized testing were originally good, the actual application of it has been tremendously scattered. In 2002, the introduction of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) held schools that receive federal funding accountable to their students’ performance on standardized tests. Schools needed to have students be proficient or improving in core academic areas (like reading and math) in order to avoid punishments, such as decreased funding. In theory, this makes sense: schools should be judged based on the academic performance of their students, and the best way to judge students is to give them the same test, right?
NCLB held teachers to a high standard, increased accountability, and ushered voucher systems and school choice into the hands of families; it also made the primary determinant of a school’s quality on its students’ ability on a standardized test. The pressure to cheat and “teach to the test” has caused many in education to criticize the bill, claiming that it reduces education to answering standardized questions and doesn’t leave room for the “magic” of education. Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and former supporter of NCLB, said of the act in 2010, “Instead of raising standards, it’s actually lowered standards, because many states have ‘dumbed down’ their tests or changed the scoring of their tests…” Eventually, NCLB was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which strips down the previous act and shifts what is left to individual states. Therefore, 20 years later, K-12 standardized testing still looms over students.
How should students be assessed across a county, state, or country then? Did NCLB poison standardized testing for American students?
This spring, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into effect that may begin a healing process in standardized testing. The bill changes Florida’s state standardized test, the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), effectively replacing the polarizing assessment with progress monitoring tests given at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. DeSantis said, “Under the FSA, students, parents, and teachers would receive the results after the school year. Well, it was too late to do anything about that. How are you going to remediate if you see problems?”
This has long been an issue with end-of-year standardized testing. Yes, these tests are a measure for student learning, but many produce strong, actionable data that can be a great resource to teachers. What is the point of handing teachers data for students that they no longer teach? For these common-sense reasons, I expect to see many states opt towards Florida’s new approach to “standardized progress monitoring.”