Beyond The Test

In a stack of papers called Testing.

  • Mar
  • 10
  • 2006

The public education system has a rather parochial view of things, at least in California. Think about it. Where are the people who are trying to create the next set of standards? English standards were released in 1998. As far as I know, there’s no date for revising those standards. Are their any people who are trying to improve standardized testing? Is anyone looking into ESEA (NCLB) version 2.0? I want to know more about what’s next, but everything seems to focused on what we have now. And what we have now is the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).

Admissions Of Inadequacy

By putting the CAHSEE in place, we admit that the courses required for graduation are not enough. If they were, why would students also need to pass a silly test?

We admit that it is possible for students to slip through and earn passing grades in all classes required for graduation, yet still not possess the skills necessary to be worthy of a high school diploma. What does that say about the requirements we have in place?

We admit that not all courses are taught by qualified teachers. All classrooms staffed by excellent or even average teachers would assure that students who pass the class deserve the grade. We all know, however, that there are classes in which students do nothing and earn a passing grade. Not all teachers actually evaluate work and not all teachers have expectations for students.

Teacher Accountability That Isn’t

We admit these things, but we do not address the problem. One problem is that, in this day and age of teacher accountability, teachers are accountable for no more than they were 30 years ago. Districts and schools take hits when performance is low, but it’s never traced back to teachers, nor should it be since there are so many other factors to consider about why a student performs poorly on a test. Because of this, I can go into my classroom every day and do a terrible job, never addressing the standards, never planning in advance the day’s events, never pushing students to the edge of their knowledge. And I’ll still get a paycheck at the end of the month.

Worse yet, if I’m a terrible teacher, students will want to transfer out of my class and I’ll never have to deal with an overloaded classroom. There’s really no system in place to get me out of there, unless there is active and vociferous parental involvement. Quite often, and for the students who typically need it, that level of parental involvement is not there. And bad teachers continue to haunt classrooms all across the globe.

I Dunno, What Do You Want To Do?

While it may be beyond my scope of knowledge how to deal with the inequities that exist in schools, that doesn’t mean that we just give up on it. And I don’t think the CAHSEE is the first step in a series of steps to increase teacher quality and school effectiveness. I think the CAHSEE is an end.

We can’t figure out a way to hold teachers accountable for teaching well and ensuring that students who earn passing grades in their classes actually possess skills, so we foist that off on to students and make them take an additional test, just to cover our bases.

We need to address problems, tackling the causes, not the effects. The CAHSEE treats an effect of teachers existing in their own bubbles, for the most part. It does not treat the cause of inequity in instruction.

As I’ve already said, I like the CAHSEE. I think it puts pressure where it belongs. But it really doesn’t require much and, since scores are averaged, a student can still be a terrible writer and pass the test with high enough scores on the objective portions. It’s not a be all, end all. We need to look beyond the CAHSEE and figure out what’s next, what else we can do to create a public education system that is worthy of the tax dollars it receives.


1. Laurie says:

[3/11/2006 - 10:15 am]

This time, this blog you hit the nail on the head and pounded it in.

2. Todd says:

[3/11/2006 - 4:00 pm]

So what do we do about it? I think that the big decision from Jack O’Connell that there are no alternatives to the CAHSEE is exactly the kind of decision that’s terrible for education. Perhaps such an alternative doesn’t exist right now, but O’Connell phrases his decision in such a way that leads me to believe that the investigation is over. So despite the fact that the legislation that put the CAHSEE into place requires consideration of alternative testing, that consideration is over without any public debriefing of the options that were looked at. I would not be surprised if O’Connell only took the briefest of cursory glances at the summaries written about the abstracts explaining some options to the CAHSEE.

So shouldn’t the response be something along the lines of, “We haven’t found anything yet, and so the CAHSEE stands as a requirement, but we will continue to look into the matter and will even go so far as to look into creating an alternative test if no such test exists”? If we had an education department that said (and actually did) that, California would be on the cutting edge.

3. Laurie says:

[3/12/2006 - 2:46 pm]

I keep thinking about why I got into teaching and it had nothing to do with a test. I know that the kind of change that needs to happen in my room, in our school, in education in California, must start with me. So I am going to keep pushing for change.