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What do standardized tests really show? Depending upon your point of view, standardized tests are an accurate mea- sure of student achievement; a somewhat accurate indication of student achieve- ment; or are just one of many factors to be considered in assessing what students have learned in the classroom. “Standardized tests, if they are used properly, indicate whether a child is suc- ceeding in school,” says John Halcon, a professor of education at CSU San Mar- cos, specializing in bilingual/multicultur- al education, racism in education, and the educating of at-risk students. “But if they don’t speak English and they’re given a STAR test in English, what have I shown you except that they don’t speak English?” (STAR tests are administered each spring to measure academic achievement of all students in grades 2-11, including English learners, in California public schools.) Even standardized tests in math given to English learners mostly reveal that a student does not speak English well, says Halcon, a member of the California Fac- ulty Association and co-author of The Best for Our Children: Critical Perspectives on Literacy for Latino Students. “When you get to the word problems, they are in En- glish. So testing for word problems is only a test to see if they speak English well enough to solve it.” Tests not proof of comprehension Christina Rodriguez, a seventh-grade math and pre-algebra teacher at Giano Intermediate in Rowland, finds test re- sults helpful when teachers have to place students in the math class appropriate for their level of understanding. Her school has a software program that al- lows her to look at the scores of students from previous years to see if they are ready for algebra. Teachers also look at which standards their students strug- gled with the previous year so they can 14 California Educator | november 2009 A -2 -1 y 2 1 0 -1 -2 1 2 x -2 -1 focus on them in current classes. Test scores are helpful, says Rodriguez, but they are not proof of comprehension. Some students are just good test takers, and they are taught how to choose the right answer through the process of elimi- nation, she explains. “Let’s say they have a question about a slope of a line,” says Rodriguez. “The line is going down, so I can teach them that it means negat ive. They know how to eliminate the choices that are posi- tive. They can eliminate answers and maybe take a 50-50 chance between two answers. But that doesn’t mean they know how to find the slope of a line.” erage test scores for a school or district can be explained, statistically speaking, without knowing anything about what happened inside the classrooms. They’re driven by socioeconomic factors,” says Kahn. He believes scores may also indicate how much time has been spent preparing kids to do well on specific tests through constant test prep and drilling, rather than encouraging them to become indepen- dent thinkers and enthu- siastic learners. By “flagging” differences John Halcon CSU San Marcos Divide between rich and poor Standardized tests are an excellent measure of how rich or poor the student population is, says Alfie Kohn, who has authored several books about standard- ized testing. “We know that 80 to 90 percent of av- in student performance by race and class, high- stakes testing reveals the “long-standing inequali- ties” in many schools and neglect of poor and mi n o r i t y s t u d e nt s , comments Linda Darling- Hammond in an article, “Evaluating No Child Left Behind,” published in The Nation. NCLB, she adds, has shifted the focus to “testing rather than investing” in our public schools. Hammond, author of 13 books and countless journal articles on education A typical test question Which graph best represents the equation y = −2x + 1? B y 2 1 0 -1 -2 1 2 x -2 -1 C y 2 1 0 -1 -2 1 2 x -2 -1 D y 2 1 0 -1 -2 1 2 x In the equation, −2 is the slope of the line. Since it’s negative, the line is going “downhill.” Choices A and C, which have positive slopes, can be eliminated. (The correct answer is B.)

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