GET SMART: What parents should know about teachers and high stakes testing and when they should know it.

29 Mar
March 29, 2012

What should parents know about teachers and high stakes testing and when should they know it?

By, James L. Casale, Ph.D.

Recent commentary in the WSJ, The Trouble With Humiliating Teachers, raises questions about the information parents should be receiving about their child’s progress. Publicizing test results goes beyond diminishing teachers: It compromises the entire school. But parents are part of the education equation and must become more reflective of their role, responsibilities and contributions.

The Coleman Report released in the 1960s emphasized the correlation between socio-economic status and student achievement. But in my view, a disadvantaged status does not release parents from being the primary positive influence that children need to succeed in school and life.

That being said, parents are entitled to know how their child is progressing in school but it starts with their efforts at being proactive and taking the initiative. It starts on day one. Waiting for the results of a high stakes test is not an option. Each year-beginning in kindergarten-parents should maintain a portfolio of all the work their child brings home from school. Homework, classwork, quizzes, teacher tests, projects, report cards, teacher notes, conference notes and anything else that informs about progress or lack thereof. This information and regular contact with the teacher or teachers represents what parents should know and when they should know it. It’s part of the parent report card. Waiting for the results of an annual high stakes test before becoming mad, sad or happy reveals a lack of involvement and commitment.

What should parents know about high stakes testing? It should not be the sole determiner of teacher effectiveness. Some states are looking at test results over a two to three year span as one indicator of teacher effectiveness. This approach makes sense given the range of variables teachers face from class to class in a given year. Complex variables ranging from student ability levels, readiness levels, student motivation, family attitudes and involvement, ESL students, special education students, students new to the school and school support systems configure to establish a different class each year. These students are not identical car parts being installed at the factory.

For example, a school in a working class neighborhood usually ranked third out of the four elementary schools in a suburban New York City school district on state exams. Two of the four schools were high achieving and located in affluent neighborhoods. In 1991, the blue collar school outscored the high achieving schools on the state reading exam. Teachers, parents and the principal were ecstatic but it did not last. The following year, the third graders were back in the third place; same teachers, same principal, same school but different third graders, different parents, and different variables.

There are other test variables that parents should know about. The test itself may not be valid or reliable and a student may just be having a bad day or not feeling well. Test anxiety is also a real issue since many school districts require a test preparation boot camp which could extend from six to eight weeks before the testing. Boot camp consists of test taking skill instruction, practice tests, practice test workbooks and more practice tests.

The test in Florida known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) consisted of the following components in 2010:

  • Grade 3: Two 60 minute reading tests over two consecutive days and two 60 minute math tests over two consecutive days.
  • Grade 4: Two 80 minute reading tests over two days and two 70 minute math tests in one day.
  • Grade 5: Two 60 minute reading tests in one day, two 80 minute math tests over two consecutive days and two 55 minute science tests over two consecutive days.

At the conclusion of this overkill, which ended in early April, the students thought the school year was over. More onerous was the fact that teachers had to condense the curriculum standards and benchmarks to fit the testing schedule. Given fall vacations and the six week test prep boot camp, there was never enough time to address what needed to be taught and learned.

Parents should be alarmed at these testing conditions and the residual fallout. They should know about it at the beginning of the school year and understand the implications. There is sufficient expertise to design teacher evaluation systems that do not rely solely on high stakes testing but it will require the coalescing of disparate groups which-so far- has not happened.

James L. Casale, Ph.D.

All rights reserved

Copyright March 27, 2012 by Jam

1 reply
  1. Christy Colasurdo says:

    Nice post, Dr. Casale! I agree with many of the points you make. Currently, there is a bill circulating in Connecticut that would make testing the main determinator of a teacher’s salary, forcing teachers to do more “teaching to the test”.

    There need not be a one-size-fits all approach to assessing teachers’ performance in a state like ours with a huge achievement gap. If high-performance school districts like ours in Fairfield County are succeeding in teaching our kids, then why penalize the kids/teachers by piling on even more onerous testing throughout the year? We need to assess which teachers/schools need assessments and improvements and work with those on to offer enhanced opportunities for learning/practicing foundations and meeting curricular objectives.

    I agree that parents need to be involved, but the problem is that parents in the high-achieving districts already ARE involved. The problem is that they are being lumped in with the lower-achieving school districts in an attempt to close the achievement gap. This will not work.

    We need to allow good teachers to do what they were hired to do: teach and motivate and inspire our kids to reach higher and to learn, not to become robotic test takers.


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