Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why don't students "buy-in"?

Over the course of our involvement in the standardized testing debate, I've encountered some version of the following question: "The tests aren't that bad. Why don't you kids just suck it up and take them?" Obviously everyone has their own explanation. I don't want to claim to represent every student, but I want to provide a few of the reasons why students don't "buy into" standardized testing. I've also listed a few possible solutions that would address these concerns.  That said, I'm a high school student not a policymaker, so these are ideas not concrete plans.

-The tests don't feel relevant. Often students are tested on material years after they have taken the classes. Since the tests don't have any bearing on students' feature, most students lack motivation.

Possible solution: There are several ways to make testing more relevant for high schoolers. In order to align with curriculums, the state could administer standardized "exit exams" to test learning in a given year. Or they coudl adminster tests that were skill-based rather than content-based. (To see what this would look like, compare the ACT science, which is skill-based, with the CMAS science, which is mostly content-based.) The state could also utilize current tools, such as the ACT, which already help with college entrance, to measure student success.

-Colorado's testing seems redundant and ineffective, especially compared to other tests that we take. Supposedly the SAT and ACT measure literacy, math, and, in the case of the ACT, science achievement in the course of a few hours.  These tests provide feedback within a month whereas students don't receive results from the CMAS and PARCC exams until the following year. The ACT and SAT aren't a panacea. These tests have their problems too.  But from a students perspective, they seem much more effective than Colorado's current standardized testing system.

Possible solution: Utilize the ACT and/or SAT or come up with a way to test students that is less time-consuming.

-Students feel shorted and don't believe they owe the state anything.  Our original CMAS letter has all the numbers on state spending, but the short version is that education funding has decreased since the 2008 recession and students know this.  We've seen the consequences in the classrooms. Thus, students are angered to see large sums of money spent on standardized testing.

Possible solution: Increase funding for education in areas other than standardized testing. I don't really see any other way around it.

These are just a few of the issues.  Socially-conscious students have other concerns about the very strong correlation between standardized test scores and income.  Some kids have test anxiety.  I'm sure there are other reasons as well.

When students don't care about standardized testing, they seek other solutions. Some opt out. Some protest. Some schools coerce students into taking the tests. Some students fill in "A" for every bubble and write Taylor Swift lyrics for the essays.

My hope is that, as policymakers continue to discuss changes to Colorado's standardized testing system, they'll consider student concerns. Because the system will be so much more effective if students believe in it.  And, despite differences in opinions, an effective education system really is what everyone wants.

-Jessica Piper

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