Education Without CSCOPE or Standardized Tests
The proper character required for the preservation and enjoyment of liberty can be achieved through the proper education. Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance states, “[r]eligion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” This goal cannot be achieved if we consider education nothing more than what can be captured by a standardized test. Rather, teachers and schools must be given the autonomy necessary to meet the needs of their students. House Bill 5 was just passed and is now in the Texas Senate. This bill, among other things, would reduce the number of standardized tests Texas students would be administered throughout the school year and thus be a good step in retrieving the idea of what education ought to be.
Standardized tests are a common instrument centralized governing bodies use to measure student achievement. Tests are easier and cheaper tools for measuring achievement when compared to other means of measurement such as teacher and student portfolios, classroom visits by administrators and colleagues, and exit interviews of students and teachers. Collecting all student work throughout the semester to measure overall comprehension would be time consuming and burdensome, but it would also be a more accurate measure as would other systems compared to the one we currently use. There is always a tradeoff between efficiency and effectiveness and every time we choose standardized tests we tip the balance in favor of efficiency and compromise effectiveness.
Consider Finland, a country widely recognized to be the world’s leader in education for students under 18. In Finland students take one standardized test when they are 16. But class sizes are smaller and teachers are put through a more rigorous training and selection procedure. Teachers in Finland start out making less than their U.S. counterparts but they receive more frequent raises. And because teachers in Finland are given support from administrators—rather than just oversight—teachers are able to shift on the fly when something is not working in their classrooms. They are taught how to deviate from a lesson plan and they are encouraged to do so if something isn’t working. U.S. teachers lack the administrative support, training, and incentive to make these changes.
On September 11, 2001 I taught at Hyde Park Baptist Schools in Austin, TX. That day I was supposed to teach my world history class about the Aztecs and Incas. Because I was not beholden to a state curriculum, nor constrained by administrative red tape, I was able to change course and tap into the student’s interests and needs. That year we had the opportunity as a class to explore more deeply historical questions relevant to the current events that had captured their attention. I loved it as a teacher and the students loved it. Because we changed course the students took away from this course more than they otherwise would have and had a better grasp of material than they otherwise would have. A state curriculum and a system based upon standardized tests would have forced me and my students to miss out on this opportunity that came from a tragedy.
Shifting our focus from standardized tests to more individualized and effective measurement procedures would allow us to better meet the needs of our students. The Texas Constitution says that “[a] general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” But aside from nebulous concepts like rights and liberties an education system that shifts away from standardized tests will teach students what they need to know in terms of subject matter. Not only will this prepare students for success beyond high school, but it will save taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing the need for remedial education at the college level. Students who do not receive the education they need in high school will need to take remedial classes at the college level. This doubling up effect costs the taxpayers and students dearly in terms of time and money.
Our state leaders need to realize that student success is based upon dedicated and empowered teachers and communities not more refined testing procedures or uniform curriculum standards like CSCOPE. Until we give up our need for homogeneity and efficient forms of evaluation, we will not be able to turn our education system around.