New Year’s Eve Headbuster

Who needs strong libation to enjoy bringing in the new year when we can think about things like: should there be more or less standardized testing in our school systems, and should we have exit exams at every grade level?

The ASCD blog points the way to this endless discussion/argument, and five testing “experts,” including W. James Popham, spilled the beans on the Freakonomics blog in the New York Times.

Something Mr. Popham said immediately struck a nerve, albeit indirectly…

“Turning to the exit-exam question, all schools — kindergarten through college — should employ exit exams allowing us to determine what students have actually learned. We owe it to our students to make sure that they’ve been properly taught.”

That quote brought to mind the school districts that are instituting exit exams tied to diplomas, which I think is a bad thing. Why? Because all the responsibility for learning is put on the student and the quality of teaching is assumed to be top flight, and not examined!

Mr. Popham’s exit tests would likely be benign indicators of learning that did or did not occur, and it’s up to us to figure out why, and assign responsibility and remediation. But to deny a child a high school diploma because they failed an exit exam — the validity of which may be in question — even though they earned the Carnegie credits, is barbaric, in my view, not to mention irresponsible and blame-shifting.

Whaddaya think?

Oh, and Happy New Year, y’all! You’re the best! 🙂


11 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve Headbuster

  1. Not to mention the whole “Assessment of Learning” vs. “Assessment for Learning” idea.

    Like state testing, I don’t necessarily object to the idea of the test as much as I object to how the results are used—e.g. graduation requirements.

    You’ve got that right. Happy New Year, SG!
    🙂 — Hugh

  2. Dear Repairman,

    Thank you for your sweet comment, and thank you for being such a loyal reader of my blog. It feels special to have such an experienced colleague that takes the time to think along whenever challenges occur, and that is always there to offer support.

    May 2008 be a wonderful, healthy, and happy New Year for you, Mrs. Repairman and all your loved ones.


    Thanks, Frumteacher! You do have a lot to offer a faithful reader. 🙂 — Hugh

  3. Happy New Year, Hugh! Missed you!!!

    How will the exit exam determine what students have learned exactly??? People would just teach to the test. . . like they’re doing now!

    There’s got to be a better way to monitor the success of schools!

    Lisa, I believe that principals are the key to good teaching. Yes, teachers are the critical personnel, but good leadership will ensure the environment where good teaching can flourish. And if teachers do the “right job right.” why would we need standardized tests? It seems that excellence would be a natural consequence.

    The better way you speak of is, I believe, with good leadership. — Hugh

  4. The only thing that I can say to that is that in the case of me taking an exit exam in high school the only thing it indicated was what I learned in the 6th grade. Exit exams are not indicators of what has been learned in the entire school experience but a mere joke of what should have been learned. I personally had friends who did not pass the high school exit exam, so what does it say that a senior in high school can’t pass a 6th grade exam? Who takes responsibility, the student or the teacher? Call me naive, but I think there needs to be indicators as to what students can achieve overall, not necessarily standardized test but markers all the same. Unfortunately, when students don’t succeed the blame will ultimately fall on the teachers and their lack of instruction.

    Stephanie, here in Oregon we have standards-based benchmark testing in core subjects at grades 3, 5, 8, and 10. The tests help us determine if we are on track with our education goals. I think what we’ve really learned is that we had too many goals to begin with, and now we’re prioritizing learning goals. The major learning goals are called “power standards” in Doug Reeves’s terminology.

    One of the most annoying problems with standardized testing is that there are too many government entities making too many, often contradictory, demands on school districts. Every entity that makes a demand also wants accountability, usually in the form of a standardized test. That’s where the craziness starts, in my mind.

    I’d like to see it all represented by state standard benchmarks, and left at that. 🙂 — Hugh

  5. Happy New Year–and yes, those tests are created and administered by people who are too far away from the classroom itself! I have had plenty of students in my 28 year career who would NOT have done well on those exams–but have thrived in their lives, and careers. It could be a question of teaching, or maturity, or what was going on in their lives at that particular moment. Let’s not trap our children in boxes from which they can’t ever escape.

    I’ll say a big “Amen” to that!
    — Hugh

  6. The standardized test has become the end-all be-all of education. Who would have ever guessed that the savior would arrive as a Scan-TRON sheet?!

    Exit exams for grade levels also do not take into account conceptual and intellectual development rates for students. In addition, life is not dictated by a series of standardized tests. I often think of all the tests I took and how no one asked me after high school what my scores were. No one cares. People want collaborative, innovative, critical thinking, industrious communicators–none of which is tested.

    I’m not being ironic are smart-mouthed here, but I think LA teachers feel the pain of standardized tests the most, because the tests fail so badly in that arena.
    😦 — Hugh

  7. Your post re: exit exams is spot on. Especially where you say, “…all the responsibility for learning is put on the student and the quality of teaching is assumed to be top flight, and not examined!” This is what frightens me the most.

    It is frightening, MissProfe, because in this world of testing and statistics, we look at data, and charts and graphs, and we make decisions about what we will do in the future without much thought for the poor kids who provided our data when we didn’t have our act totally together.

    I’m talking about the students who don’t graduate because the test was flawed or the teacher did a lousy job. Even if the test is “adjusted” the following year, that particular kid got royally screwed.

    You’re totally on target. It is frightening. Rather than be scared, though, I’m really angry about the idea that we can coldly act as if everything is hunky-dory while we collect data, knowing our grading systems or testing systems are flawed. Sure, that data will contribute to refinement of the system, but what about the lab rats that had to be sacrificed while the data was gathered?

    Thanks for your comment, MissProfe. You got me going, didn’t you? 🙂 — Hugh

  8. I can’t offer anything useful here, since I’m not familiar with the system.

    You’re fortunate in that respect, Frumteacher! We are steadily losing local control, which is, in my mind, a danger. — Hugh

  9. Hugh, I agree that exit exams would not be good but only because I don’t think teachers should teach “to the test.”

    By the way, a number of weeks ago you had a link to a zero grade policy article I read that article and found it quite interesting. I am saving it and hope to use it later when I start teaching.

    Thanks for your encouragement. I am sorry that I haven’t reciprocated in kind.

    Best wishes for a great new year and here’s to hoping we can pick up where we left off earlier last year.

    Hey Eric, we’re picked up! 🙂 — Hugh

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