UGA student: I don’t test well, but I do well in school. More testing is not way to improve education.

Here is a well done essay by a UGA student on the national infatuation with standardized testing.  It will run in the Monday print AJC.  Enjoy

By Brittany Binowski

Not to brag, but in my 16 years as a student, I have consistently earned good grades and today have a 3.8 grade point average at the University of Georgia.

And I have done this despite— not because of — the standardized tests used throughout the state to judge whether students have learned required material.

For complicated reasons, I — and thousands of students like me across the state— don’t do well on standardized tests even though we succeed with other measurements,  writing, work study or group projects.

In my writing and self-directed projects, I’m able to demonstrate what I’ve learned, even though it isn’t reflected on standardized tests.

I submit that in our efforts to raise educational standards of our schools and universities, Georgia must get away from its obsession with the standardized test and find better ways to measure student progress.

Inevitably, a teacher whose efficiency (and salary potential) is measured by students’ test scores will teach to test materials rather than teach the subject as it should be taught.

Gov. Sonny Perdue proposes a new merit-based system for judging teacher efficiency based on student performance on standardized tests. This would only exaggerate the state’s problems.

We all know that each class of students is different. Teachers don’t teach the same and students don’t learn the same. Some students pick up material quickly, others struggle with it.

So, why do we rely so heavily on standardized tests which do not account for these unknown variables in the classroom?

These tests assume every class and every school is the same and ignore the individual characteristics and needs of students and the communities in which they live.

I believe teachers should adapt lessons to the community around them, not to standardized tests, and teach students what is the most relevant, important and helpful to them at that time.

After all, school is not just about subjects covered in class. It also is about personal growth.

Teachers must be free to contend with the individual personalities of each student, teaching each how to behave maturely and solve problems inside and outside of the classroom. Those valuable lessons cannot be measured or tested easily.

Most of my UGA classes do not focus on analogies and sentence completions, the stuff of standardized tests. They focus on practical writing and reporting, considering information in the context in which it is being read or written and going from there.

Standardized tests ask students to take two words out of context and relate them to each other.
This ignores the fact that language is a highly subjective experience and that its importance is based on how each student internalizes it.

The state should permit teachers to judge students’ performance by administering short-answer tests that allow students to input their own answers, explaining how they arrived at a certain choice and what it means to them.

Tests should be created and administered individually by people familiar with each school system.

This would provide the state with a more realistic interpretation of how well teachers are teaching the material their students need to know.
Knowledge cannot be standardized and neither should our classrooms.

Brittany Binowski of Conyers is recruitment editor for the Red & Black newspaper and a magazines major at the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

119 comments Add your comment

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Dan

April 7th, 2010
6:34 am

While what Brittany says is true in some cases, the more common scenario is where the student does well in school due to grade inflation and then fails when the move on to life or higher education. That is the primary reason for standardized testing. Oh and the inevitability of teachers “teaching to the test” I suspect there to be a high overlap with grade inflators , and that would be the ones we want to get rid of

TheRog

April 7th, 2010
7:03 am

Diane Ravitch, (A strong conservative) has written about many of the problems with standardized testing. I suggest everyone first read this opinion piece by her before commenting.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-ravitch14-2010mar14,0,2024751.story

A Different Opinion

April 7th, 2010
7:14 am

Brittany writes a good line……and she says in her essay that this is one of the things she does well and I applaud her for it; however, she’s young and has very much to learn.

One of her statements…..
I believe teachers should adapt lessons to the community around them, not to standardized tests, and teach students what is the most relevant, important and helpful to them at that time.

The only problem with this statement is that schools, for the most part, are no longer made up of community children……they’re bussed in from everywhere and are expected to mix in with each other like sugar and cream in coffee……it’s not possible to take her statement above and apply it to today’s situations.

I believe it’s important to teach kids what they need to learn…..and I stress “Need to Learn”……not every child is college material……schools need to learn this early and adapt to the situation and place the child where they need to be.

Bill

April 7th, 2010
7:20 am

There are lots of problems with current testing regimes. However:
1) Standardized tests (NCLB, etc.) are not intended to measure individual performance.
2) Standardized tests are not an improvement tool, they are a measurement tool. Tests provide information, not improvement. We need to respond to that information with appropriate action.
3) There is nothing wrong with teaching to the test, IF it is a good test. – A Valid test is one that measures what it aims to measure. If a test aims to measure the appropriate body of knowledge for a particular grade or class, then teaching that body of knowledge constitutes “teaching to the test”.

Teacher/Learner

April 7th, 2010
7:46 am

First, I’d like to thank Brittany for taking the time to write this thoughtful piece – she presents a piece of the assessment puzzle that is so important and necessary, but sadly overlooked: PERFORMANCE. We have PERFORMANCE standards in Georgia, however, our state assessments cannot, do not measure performance. We use multiple choice tests in the lower grades where kids are presented 3 answers and choose or guess which one is the correct answer. For example, the state of GA does not require that children actually be able to read a text and generate the main idea themselves (even though that is how the standard reads), rather, they are only required to read a short passage and choose from three possible answers which would be the best main idea. Not the same level of difficulty at all, but equated the same when results are announced and cheered and fabrications of achievement are acclaimed in press conferences and news releases.

I am one of those public school teachers who DO think we need a state mandated K-12 minimum skills, “here’s the line in the sand we’ve drawn and you MUST know this stuff and be able to do these things” sort of assessment. However, we also need the sort of PERFORMANCE assessments Brittany describes to add to the picture of what children know, can do, and understand across their years in our public school systems. Yes, constructed response on standardized tests is more expensive and takes longer to get results back to schools…so?

Again, thanks Brittany for taking the time to write and submit your thoughts. Its not only the kids who do not test well whose educations are defined by test scores, but also all the kids whose educations are being shaped by standarized testing. Assessment drives instruction – both content and level of thinking. Think about it…

every teacher teaches to the test

April 7th, 2010
7:48 am

I never understood the notion of “I don’t test well.” I think that’s an excuse we hear too often. Assessment is a critical part of teaching and learning. As Bill stated, a good test will show you what you do and don’t understand, but it is still up to the teachers and students to use that information to move on. A part of many standardized tests is that they don’t provide useful information – when you just get a score, that doesn’t really tell you much about what you do or don’t understand.

A part of the pay-for-performance policy is the disproportionate emphasis on student scores on standardized tests. I understand why we can’t use students’ grades but everyone (except policy makers?) know that we don’t measure something only once if it is really important. Every measurement is an approximation and it contains error. Scientists will take multiple measurements during their experiments. In education context, we should be using multiple measures as well, and the discussion should be what those measurements should be. There is no problem having standardized tests in the set of measurements we use, but we can’t just have the standardized test.

ABC

April 7th, 2010
7:52 am

Interesting. I was going to post that I didn’t use to do very well in standardize testing either…until someone taught me the tricks. It’s not all that hard.

However, after reading Dan’s post, I am inclined to agree. I think grade inflation has a whole lot more to do with schools inflating grades rather than “not testing well”

Vince

April 7th, 2010
8:00 am

Those of us in the schools agree. There is too much standardized testing. However, the current testing situation was created by legislators…..not educators.

Teaching in FL is worse

April 7th, 2010
8:25 am

From Diane Ravitch’s piece: “Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done.”

I can only speak for myself, but I am not distracted. I do my best with my students every day.

This holds true not only to education, but to every complicated issue that faces our country. Until our leaders look past trying to get re-elected and look long-term, nothing will ever truly change.

In the land of unintended consequences (D.C. and Atlanta) the motto is: “look busy-the voting public is watching.”

Timber

April 7th, 2010
8:27 am

What does “not testing well” mean?

1+1=2 anyway you slice it. The US Senate has 100 members. H2O is the chemical symbol for water.

Either you know these basic concepts or you don’t.

How does a teacher “adapt” these basic lessons.

One other thing, if the author self admittedly does not test well, how in the hell does she have a 3.8 GPA? Doesn’t say much for the rigors of UGA’s journalism program.

DeKalb Educated

April 7th, 2010
8:28 am

She is right. A good teacher will adapt. Students are different. Some learn visually, others must hear and process and others must have hands on adaptation experience. Some students like my son, panic the moment the clock starts on a standardized test. He made it through a top 25 college as an honor student and completed law school in DC with all A’s. Yet, he didn’t do well in elementary school on all those standardized tests. Boy brains are different and most cannot concentrate as well in the early grades which should be taken into account. This student makes some valid points. Grade inflation does happen. What would be nice if those who make the rules look at other methods – writing test, problem solving, etc. to evaluate students’ and teachers’ performance.

lulu

April 7th, 2010
8:28 am

I imagine that keeping a decent GPA is a little more difficult at UGA than at most Georgia high schools, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I certainly know plenty of kids who have a lifetime of straight-A report cards and can’t manage to score over 1200 on the SAT or pass a CRCT test. “I’m not a good test-taker” doesn’t begin cover that.

There are test-taking skills that can easily be taught, which can help those people who are truly bad test-takers. However, I’m pretty familiar with at least the math CRCT tests, and there’s really not anything wrong with the test. There is nothing there that is too hard or that our kids don’t need to know. It may not be perfect, but maybe if we DO start teaching to the test, kids will eventually come out of school with some knowledge, because it certainly isn’t happening now.

We aren't ready for honesty

April 7th, 2010
8:33 am

Basically, what it comes down to, is we aren’t ready for an honest discussion about public school education, because it would start with this.

It’s the discipline, stupid!

Can anybody point out a failing school, where discipline was made a priority, where staff could say without fear of repercussion, that teachers were truly given more support in holding students accountable for behavior and academics and yet that school failed to make gains academically?

Even one?

Please!

April 7th, 2010
8:39 am

Rog, I do not trust the politically motivated Dianne Ratvitch. Her ideas are for sale.

Dan, I agree. Standardized tests are needed but should not be overused. There should be a balance to evaluate students. Writing samples, standardized tests, projects, and teacher grades are ideas to create a balance.

Teacher/Learner

April 7th, 2010
8:39 am

@Timber…assessment for grades is not limited in college, nor in first grade, to traditional “regurgitate-what-the-teacher-has-told-you” tests. There are performance based assessments with carefully developed rubrics with gradients that define levels of and quality of work.

Happy Teacher

April 7th, 2010
8:50 am

Question for Ms. Binowski: Did you every fail a portion of the CRCT? Or an EOCT? Just curious.

Thank you for your article; it’s always great to hear the student’s voice in these discussions.

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
8:59 am

I’ll throw my own story out there because I, like Brittany, never handled standardized tests very well. I teach Learning Support students and I begin each semester with this “startling” fact:

I scored an 860 on the SAT. Yes, that’s 8-6-0.

I barely got into Young Harris College, and that had more to do with my extracurricular successes than my academic successes. But, college and I just gelled. I later graduated, Magna Cum Laude, from GSU. I finished graduate school with a 3.97 GPA (one stinkin’ “B”). I completed all of my schooling, from freshman year to PhD in 7 years, and did so with a lot of accolades.

Standardized tests are arbitrary at best. I don’t know why I performed so terribly on the SAT. My GRE scores were above average – it’s essentially an amped up version of the SAT. Both tests bored me to tears. My college courses, however, and the tests I took in those courses (with little exception) were challenging and invigorating. We need to turn our focus on improving the course curriculum, give educators back the “right” to fail students, and let the classroom be the assessment tool. Standardized tests are just money-makers for McGraw-Hill and others. Not useful at all.

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
9:00 am

Maureen, I’m in the filter …

pay attention folks

April 7th, 2010
9:02 am

Maureen,
Did the math article ever run? Is it going to?

pay attention folks

April 7th, 2010
9:08 am

If you are over the age of 35 or so, the testing you encountered in school is a far cry from what’s going on today. Testing is completely over the top and to echo what Vince said, all of this testing is the product of legislators, not educators. Case in point, when the legislature had the chance to eliminate the needless CRCT testing in first and second grades, they blew it. To what end? I mean seriously, do any of you know (or care) how well you did on a standardized test you took in elementary ot middle school?

pay attention folks

April 7th, 2010
9:21 am

Maureen,
It appears the State Board of Ed is meeting today and tomorrow. Is the AJC covering this?

Teacher/Learner

April 7th, 2010
9:22 am

Here’s something I’d like to add to the comment I wrote earlier about assessment…not only do we need to DO performance assessments, but those assessments need to be understood and VALUED byfederal and state legislators, the public, students’ parents, administrators, students, and Boards of Education – EVERYONE, as an essential part of the picture the student and teacher are developing of their work together. Until that happens, the numbers that standardized testing produce will continue jingling…as someone said wrote, mostly to make money for test companies, but most definitely not to give teachers detailed information to inform their instruction.

Teacher/Learner

April 7th, 2010
9:25 am

@Maureen, Since standardized testing is currently the sole indicator being used in teacher pay-for-performance evalution info, do you know how to contact the committee writing/revising the GA RTTT application?

Teacher/Learner

April 7th, 2010
9:26 am

Maureen, one of my comments is currently in the filter…

Happy Teacher

April 7th, 2010
9:29 am

T/L – standardized testing is not the only indicator being used in pay-for-performance models.

Panda8

April 7th, 2010
9:45 am

Probably half the students I know “don’t test well” – and it never makes any difference whether the test is teacher specific or standardized. There are many problems with standardized tests, but those aren’t really related to this “don’t test well” mentality. In fact, there are not very many standardized tests in college – I only recall two, and one of those was only for students who went to high school out of state. So, to do well ‘in spite of those’…. they just aren’t that big a part.

If you don’t test, then you are missing half the picture. Take home projects sometimes show strengths … they also often show how well the student gets tutored, family help, friends help, or looks up things on the internet. You don’t always have infinite time and resources. Only measuring under those circumstances doesn’t demonstrate full understanding. I was constantly asked to help these “don’t test well” students to study…. many simply had no clue what the class even was about – it was just that with enough time, good groups for projects, and their friend Google, any outside class projects were trivial.

Of course, some student have severe testing anxiety issues, but that is something they will need to learn to correct as well, as it may carry over to deadlines and meetings in life after school. It is unfortunate to deal with, but it is still an important life skill.

Teacher/Learner

April 7th, 2010
9:52 am

HT, I hesitated before writing that because I know the “model” uses other indicators as well. The problem is that the primary assessment tool for Georgia is Class Keys which is a very rigorous assessment. The rubrics in Class Keys are quite dependent on “deep knowledge” in order to receive the highest rating. You cannot develop “deep knowledge” in even one year – years are required. However, administrators/principals will use this instrument to evaluate teachers without having had the professional learning and time to develop the knowledge base of theory and what that theory looks like in practice for say just beginning literacy (and I make the distinction of “beginning” as the child developing an independent, self-improving reading process is a very different kid than the child who can read independently on grade level…) and mathematics. These same admins are going to have to be able to go into a 5th grade classroom and understand how comprehension strategies have been developed from talk in K and 1st grade to the deeper kinds of thinking we want kids to be able to demonstrate in upper elementary. Do you see where I’m going with this? I personally have used Class Keys to coach myself this past year as there is no coaching for literacy and mathematics in our system if you are not in Title schools. So, in combination with lots and lots of professional reading, Class Keys, and my assessments, I’ve tried to refine my practice – its really helped. Wish I’d had the benefits of on-going discussion to support me, but have had the monthly DOE mathematics webinars to get some feedback. My point is though, that Class Keys cannot be used equitably to evaluate teachers until both teachers and admins have been given sufficient time in QUALITY professional learning contexts to make this a fair way to evaluate performance.

Unfortunately for learning in schools, It does not take deep content knowledge to compare scores on standardized tests. Much of the public as well, equates higher scores on standardized test with evidnence of better teaching and more learning. One of our school system’s written goals is higher scores on all state mandated tests. OUCH!

redweather

April 7th, 2010
9:55 am

JacketFan–I’m not trying to burst your bubble, but a 3.97 in grad school isn’t all that unusual. The easiest, or most generous, grading I encountered as a student was in grad school. Not sure why that was the case. And I, too, am a GSU graduate.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laura Diamond. Laura Diamond said: UGA student shares experience of low scores on standardized tests, but high grades in college. What do you think? http://bit.ly/bUaQxt [...]

Teacher&mom

April 7th, 2010
9:59 am

Standardized testing is equivalent to eating fast food everyday. Sure…you’re getting food but what about the quality of that food? What about the long-term effects?

Happy Teacher

April 7th, 2010
10:05 am

T&m – I like your analogy, but I find that it only holds true in the case of a poor teachers. I think most good teachers are able to go far beyond the requirements of such an easy test in their lessons.

Maybe like having a soda with a well-balanced meal?

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
10:06 am

Redweather – I didn’t go to grad school at GSU. And, yes, I’m aware high GPAs are common in graduate school (thanks for the condescension), but so are people dropping out and consistently scoring a “B” in their courses. Maybe you’d be more impressed if I said I passed all four (one primary, three secondary) PhD comprehensive exams one year after receiving my masters … the point is that I’m a successful academic who scored exceedingly low on a standardized test that many hail as the end all, be all of assessment tools for higher education (see also, ACT).

redweather

April 7th, 2010
10:15 am

JacketFan–I wasn’t being condescending. Just making an observation about grading in grad school. Sheesh.

catlady

April 7th, 2010
10:19 am

There are few phrases that grate on my nerves more than “I don’t test well”, “He’s all boy” or “He’s bored in class” or “The teacher has it in for me”. To me, those are excuses.

I applaud Ms. Binowsky for her achievement and her thoughtful commentary. However, I sincerely believe if you have mastered the subject matter, back and forth, and have a few basic testing strategy skills (pacing, looking for key words) you should be able to do very well on standardized tests.

Teacher/Learner: I agree with many of your comments. I am also very concerned about Class Keys, because our administrators cannot construct a correct sentence, so you can forget about deep knowledge. One has less than 10 years in the classroom before being kicked upstairs! The other has experience for about 15 years in one grade level. Not to mention the source of their degrees! Let’s pilot Class Keys on administrators, looking at whether they effectively lead and have the knowledge and skills to administrate.

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
10:19 am

@Redweather – “hate to burst your bubble” isn’t condescending?

Maureen Downey

April 7th, 2010
10:20 am

pay attention, Let me check. The reporter is out this week.
Maureen

catlady

April 7th, 2010
10:26 am

Jacketfan: any chance you just skipped a question (misnumbered) on the SAT? Did you take it more than once? Generally your GRE and SATs are close to equivalent, with a little higher expected on the GRE. You would not expect a 600 point differential, for example, but a 200 point difference would not be unusual, depending on where you started, of course. How much difference was there, and how many years in between?

In my work in colleges, I was routinely astounded by kids with a 3.8 hs gpa who presented (old SATs of 900. Ya gotta wonder about grade inflation on that.

redweather

April 7th, 2010
10:28 am

In the context of that post, I don’t think it’s condescending at all.

Timber

April 7th, 2010
10:28 am

Jacketfan–what is your PhD in?

catlady

April 7th, 2010
10:37 am

stuck in the filter from about 10 am

Jacketfan

April 7th, 2010
10:37 am

@ Timber

My PhD is in African American studies.

CA Civility

April 7th, 2010
10:37 am

Response to Dan & ABC

The student probably did well in school not,because of grade
inflation,but because the type of testing done is completely
different from standardized testing. Testing in a subject area
for a class is narrow in scope,and the student can focus on
studying a select portion of information from a unit,whereas
standardized testing covers a much larger volume of material
that tends to cover more analysis and inferenced based
questions as opposed to comprehension oriented questions.
The tests are both important and accurate,but have different
functions in terms of assessment. Brittany will probably
have a great deal of success, if she has a strong work
ethic, and is persistent in obtaining her goals.

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
10:43 am

@Catlady – I took the SAT as a sophomore and, as I said before, I was just bored. I think it has a lot to do with maturity as well. I wasn’t the kind of student I would become in college. I didn’t care. I wanted to get through it. By the time I took the GRE, some five years later, I was more focused and recognized the importance of the test. I was still bored to tears, but I knew that it represented the difference between just getting into grad school and getting in with an assistantship or fellowship.

@Timber – I have a MA in English and a PhD in a sociological/anthropological discipline that I don’t wish to disclose for the purposes of anonymity (it would be a dead giveaway when paired with all the other information I have put out on these boards about myself and my position). I finished my graduate coursework and exams in about three years (I took normal course loads in the summers) and was hired to a TT job ABD. I finished my dissertation (something I had been researching since I was an undergraduate) in the following year.

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
10:43 am

The first answer about African American studies is not from me …

john konop

April 7th, 2010
10:47 am

A one size fit all multiple choice testing does not always give you the level of knowledge of the student. The advantage goes to the kids who read fast and have a good memory of facts. That does not mean that they know it conceptually or can apply it to the real world.

That is why in the REAL WORLD we interview people for jobs and not just give them a multiple choice test. The biggest problem I see is the people developing the theory behind education have no clue how the REAL WORLD works.

I think if the education bureaucracy ie system was more user friendly excepting people from the private sector at all levels, you would see less disconnect between education and REAL WORLD JOBS!

Timber

April 7th, 2010
10:49 am

Jacketfan—-ir al infierno. No place for that b.s. on this board. My question to the real JacketFan still stands.

I believe there is a direct correlation between high SAT scores on the math section and success in engineering, sciences, finance,computers programmingand other disciplines that require skill with numbers.

JacketFan

April 7th, 2010
10:54 am

Maureen, I’m in the filter again

CA Civility

April 7th, 2010
11:00 am

If a student has a higher standardized test score,does it mean that the student is
academically better ?

If a person scores higher on medical boards, bar exam,or Georgia driver’s test
does it mean that they are better ?

What happens when students pass the standardized math tests,but have difficulty
figuring out algebra problems where the numbers are not available to be plugged in
as they are in a multiple choice test, and the students are forced to show their
steps in solving the problem ?