The Irony of Standardized Testing in the NCLB World

Stephanie had to sit for standardized testing for the last two days.  Things have come a long way since I was a kid, carefully filling in those ovals with the #2 pencil.  Instead she sits at a computer, answering the multiple choice questions.   The test program our district (and the state) uses is the Measure of Academic Progress (aka "MAPS Test"), provided by Northwest Evaluation Assessment.  It seems to be a well thought out program, in that the test adjusts to meet the skills of the test taker.  Should the student blast through the initial questions, the program knows to give successively more challenging questions. 

The overall test data is what is used to determine, ostensibly, the efficacy of the education provided by the school district.  Districts are either meeting the NCLB standards or they are considered a school "In Need of Improvement".  Our schools are currently listed as "In Need of Improvement".  To get off the list, the school must have two consecutive years of earning adequate test scores. 

MAPS testing time is the only time that there is a strong message to the students to "Get a good night's sleep!" and "Eat a healthy breakfast!".  Sure, those messages are given here and there but they are EMPHASIZED heavily only during MAPS testing.  It irritates me that they aren't as adamant about getting this message out during the rest of the year, but I suppose, that's the nature of the beast.  The school's standing rests on these tests. 

To that end, the district is offering summer "Camp" this year.  You know how much kids lose over the summer, and Camp is supposed to ameliorate that issue to a certain degree.  Except that this isn't Camp, it's summer school.  And it's not available to all the students, only to those who are testing as "Below Proficient" on the MAPS test.  One could argue that the "proficient" kids don't backslide over the summer, but we all know that is not true.  There's a summer slide.  It happens--and it's why, I've been told, that the first marking period in the fall is generally a review of the previous year's basics.

But the flyer sent home calls this a Camp.  (Fun!)  And they present it using the above mentioned logic of the loss of progress over the summer.  And then they go on in the softest, squishiest way to explain that students are "selected" to attend, and that if your student's teacher thinks your child will benefit, they will contact you directly.  Otherwise, this is not for your child.

They don't say, Our test scores are inadequate, and if we don't show that we're addressing the issue, we're in big trouble.  Instead, they sell--Camp!  Good Times!  Learning!  [Improved Test Scores?!] Those kids who actually find educational challenges fun and good times, should they have scored as proficient or better on the MAPS test, are excluded from the camp. They are not invited, never mind welcome. 

The Message?  We don't care if you slip back over the summer.  You meet our minimum standards, so we don't have to offer you anything.  Nice.  They quote the stats that show all kids slip back a bit over the summer, but then say that's OK for some kids.  In other words, "We don't care."

Now, I know they "care".  These are not unkind individuals, and I assume they are educational professionals because they value education, but they are also human.  The school faces serious repercussions if they don't bring up the scores, so frankly, the efforts to that end are going to trump all others. 

Steph knows her raw scores for this spring's MAPS test.  The program gives you that number at the end of the test session.  It's 'unofficial', but I will receive an official report in the next week or so.  In the meantime, I consulted last year's test score matrix, which indicates a raw score range for students at each grade level. 

According to the raw score she received, she is in the 50th percentile in reading.  At the 8th grade level.  50% of eighth graders scored better than she did on this test, and she exceeded the scores of the other 50%.  Which would be fine if she were in 8th grade, or  even 7th.

But she's not.  She's in 2nd grade.  Reading six grades above her grade level.  Which puts her in the 99th percentile among her chronological peers.  Math was similar, but girlfriend scaled it back a bit--she's at the 6th grade level.

This is the part where you say, "But, Margaret!  She scored so well!  The school must be doing something right!!"

Which would lead to the part where I smile and explain that she doesn't get accelerated math or reading.  She gets 2nd grade math and 2nd grade readers (she's allowed pleasure reading above 2nd grade when she's through with her classroom work, but there's no tie in to curriculum or even comprehension exercises).  She spends 1/2 an hour, once a week, in a pull-out enrichment program, led by the G & T coordinator (who is, by the way, the ONLY reason that I remain sane despite my frustrations with the district/school as a whole).  The school, good intentions not withstanding, has done jack to address my kids' educational needs on a day-to-day basis--they aren't motivated to do so, because they're passing the tests.

I would also explain that we are NOT a 'flashcard family'.  I want my kids to be KIDS, and we've never shoved academics down their throats.  They read because they love to.  They learn because it's fun.  They do it on their own. 

Back to the MAPS testing program.  As I mentioned, the nameless, faceless proctor (aka the MAPS test itself) has been programmed to accelerate the questions up to the student's ability.  The test doesn't waste time on repetitive questions when the student has clearly mastered the material.  The MAPS test brings the challenge up the student.

Did you get that?  This test, which is used to determine the success of the school in meeting minimum academic standards and to track students' progress, differentiates its test on an individual basis. If the test is so valued for the critical information that it provides administrators and classroom teachers, why is it that district can't see the value in differentiating the classroom experience throughout the year for individual students? 

The irony would be amusing, if it didn't negatively impact my children in such an insidious way.  My kids are effectively ignored..."Left Behind" as it were.  And apparently, that is OK.

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When not busy advocating for her children's education you can find Margaret blogging at Just Margaret.

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