Just the mere mention of the words “standardized testing” is enough to set off debates about testing pros and cons, as well as complaints from students, teachers and parents alike about the time spent preparing for and administering these tests. Many public school districts have adopted a merit-pay system whereby teachers whose students show growth in standardized test scores are financially rewarded with bonuses and/or pay increases. Proponents of this system feel that this acts as an incentive for teachers to ensure that their students are adequately prepared on the material being tested. Those who are against this system frequently present the case that the teachers are being held accountable for past failures or students who do not come to them with adequate prerequisite knowledge.
Regardless of which side you may favor, both arguments fail to address a crucial element behind the case for standardized testing. A point that is often not addressed is that the results of such testing allow administrators to make valuable inferences about students’ abilities and achievements, and to use these resulting conclusions to further increase the efficacy of classroom instruction. In our nearsighted race to the top, too much emphasis is often put on individual student scores, percentile rankings, and stanines; and not enough on what the scores themselves are telling us about the overall curriculum and instruction in our classrooms.
By viewing standardized test scores as a window into the school’s curriculum, instead of solely as an expression of a student’s individual performance, the result is classified as a “win-win” situation for everyone. A striking example of this took place at Posnack School over the last few years as the lower school math curriculum underwent a tremendous reform by placing a greater emphasis on mathematical word problems and new problem solving strategies. This month’s issue of Hayidion, a journal published by RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network, contains more detailed information on the changes implemented by Posnack . I am honored to have the opportunity to share with the community the details of Posnack’s success, and look forward to upcoming school-wide standardized testing to continue to determine how we, as a school, can best serve the needs of our student body. This single reason, meeting our students’ needs, is clearly the most important reason for ongoing standardized testing.