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Standardized testing is the topic at two upcoming events

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How do standardized tests get to be such hot topics?

There are few hotter potatoes in education at the moment than standardized tests. Depending on whom you ask, they are either drowning our students and teachers or illuminating the path to educational equity.

But what do you know about standardized tests? What do they measure and how well? Is the information they generate useful? And how did they get to be such hot topics?

You have a couple of chances to hear divergent opinions on the subject. The first takes place tonight, Thursday, Feb. 13, at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis. AchieveMpls and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) are co-hosting the first of six upcoming “Our City, Our Schools” meetings, this one focused on data and testing.

Presenters will include Dr. Eric Vanden Berk, a MPS research specialist; Megan Olivia Hall, 2013 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and current teacher at St. Paul’s Open World Learning Community; and Taylor Rub, a special education teacher at Brightwater Montessori Charter School and former MPS teacher. 

The idea is to have the audience hear an objective overview of testing, and then from a proponent and a skeptic. I don’t know any of the panelists in the aforementioned lineup so I can’t tell you who will fill which role, but I can tell you from personal experience that AchieveMpls, MPS’ nonprofit partner, does a terrific job facilitating useful conversation.

Our City, Our Schools runs from 6-8 at Sanford Middle School, 3524 42nd Ave South.

The second panel and community discussion, “Standardized Tests: Are They Helping or Hurting?” will take place Sunday, Feb. 16 at First Covenant Church of Minneapolis, which is located at 810 S. Seventh St. The panel will take place at 6 p.m. and a facilitated conversation will follow at 7.

University of St. Thomas Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds will moderate a panel that I’m proud to join. It, too, will offer divergent thoughts on testing.

The president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker has called for a clause in the union’s next contract with its district curtailing standardized tests. Joining her will be Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCAN; Chris Stewart, executive director of the African American Leadership forum; and Portia McLean, an adjunct professor of linguistics at Concordia University and the University of Minnesota.

If you recognize any of the names on that list, you might guess where they stand on some of the questions swirling around the testing debate. Me? You’re going to have to show up to find out for sure, but I’ll tell you that this is one topic where my parent hat and my reporter hat don’t fit comfortably on my head at the same time. 

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Comments (4)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/13/2014 - 10:50 am.

    Testing proponents shaming kindergartners. That’s where all this is going.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/13/2014 - 11:24 am.

    Anyone opposed

    to testing all students to a standard set of learning objectives should forfeit their credentials as an alleged educator.

    It would be like removing the targets on a shooting range. Why bother?

  3. Submitted by Jerry Von Korff on 02/14/2014 - 12:15 pm.

    Testing for what

    I’ll confess, as a high school teacher–back in the dark ages, I did a lot of testing. I wanted to know how my students were doing. I wanted to know whether my teaching was working. I wanted to create a bit of incentive to encourage my students to do their homework, read the text, and come to class prepared. Little short quizzes; multiple choice tests; practice exams, and in New York, practice Regents.

    The assignments in the book (mathematics) are tests, formative tests that assist the student and the teacher in learning. At the end of the book comes practice tests and in the teachers manual comes a unit test. The tests in the book are, yes, standardized tests. If the school gives me a really good book, then the tests in the book are better than mine, because somebody spent a ton of time thinking through the tests, making them clear, connecting them to the unit objectives, and possibly even providing information on how other students do on such tests. Can we agree that good teachers use testing all the time and there is really nothing wrong with using high quality carefully crafted standardized tests. Standardized tests is not the issue.

    The problem that is creating this debate is twofold. First, Minnesota throws tests at teachers that cannot be used to support good teaching. They are drafted to satisfy the politicians and the chamber of commerce that we are supposedly holding schools accountable. So we get tests that aren’t designed to be used to help teachers teach, and we get the answers months afterwards. The results are published in the newspaper primarily to humiliate the schools that have lots of kids who are disabled or who don’t speak English. They are a waste of money, poorly crafted for teaching and for accountability.

    Second, teachers organizations have got their membership all whipped up to fight accountability, and one of the best ways to avoid accountability is to make sure that the results in one school can’t be compared to another. This fear of accountability is fed, in part, because nobody likes to be evaluated, and partly because folks are using the test results to wage wars of humiliation against teachers and against labor unions and in some cases against “government schools.”

    High quality standardized tests, with just in time results, carefully tied and connected to the curriculum, and which support formative use of data…that’s a good thing. But we gotta stop using standardized testing as a political football, and start building our testing regimen around helping schools become effective.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/15/2014 - 09:25 am.

    Don’t tell Beth Hawkins that there are other perspectives on testing beyond panels she appears on:

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