It’s Time to Reevaluate How We Evaluate Our Kids

The scandal began a few years ago when The Atlanta Constitution Journal decided to analyze multiple years worth of standardized test scores from schools in the Atlanta area, in an attempt to clarify just how effective these tests were in evaluating student academic progress.   With the millions of dollars and countless hours and other resources our school districts spend on standardized testing, it’s amazing no one thought to do this sooner.  But my, oh my, how eye opening the results have been.

The study uncovered countless statistical anomalies and struggled to explain them without using the word “cheating”.  An investigation ensued, and cheating was indeed proven in roughly half of the Atlanta-area elementary and middle schools.   Teachers admitted not following test protocols, by allowing students extra time to finish or erase answers and rework incorrect problems, obtaining advance copies of the test to “preview” with their students before test day, and even outright falsifying test results.   The degree of moral corruption and flagrant violation of policy was astounding, but this is a prime example of what educators are driven to do when their funding, and sometimes their very jobs, depend on meeting goals set by education bureaucrats.

On March 25, 2012, the Dayton Daily News announced they had partnered with their peers at the Atlanta Constitution Journal to conduct a similar examination of standardized test scores in Ohio.  (Read the full Dayton Daily News article here, and the companion article from the Atlanta Constitution Journal here.)  They used advanced statistical analysis to uncover the same sorts of patterns and anomalies in test results over a seven year period.  But the problem isn’t limited to just Atlanta or Ohio.  Coast to coast, schools across the nation are failing critical reviews of their test results.  As the Dayton Daily News article states:

The analysis flagged as suspicious any score change that had less than a 5 percent probability of occurring by chance based on all the other scores on that test in the state.  The study then calculated the probability that any district would have the number of flagged improbable scores it had in any one year.  In some cases, those probabilities were approaching zero.

As many in the homeschooling community have known for years, it’s time to change how we evaluate student progress, because standardized testing is not the panacea it was once thought to be.  The homeschool laws in some states allow for parents to either submit annual standardized test scores or have a portfolio of the child’s work evaluated by a licensed teacher each year.    The option for homeschool portfolios has the advantage of only comparing the student’s work to their own work from the previous year, so the assessment of their progress is individual, unlike standardized test results that compare homeschoolers to students in the same grade nationwide.

There are countless other ways to evaluate how much a student has learned, as in the portfolio process where samples of their work are displayed.  It’s often been said the best way to prove you know something is to teach it to someone else, not to take a test on it yourself.  Project-based learning also provides tangible proof of the learning experience, as does critical thinking and applying learned knowledge to problem-solving situations and the creative process.  But these don’t mesh with the one-size-fits-all approach of public schools and their reliance on standardized testing, and unfortunately are unlikely to be implemented on anything but the most local of levels.

It’s high time schools stopped cheating their students out of an education by limiting them within the narrow parameters of an evaluation system created by bureaucrats, especially now that the system has been proven to be riddled with dishonesty and cheating.  Is that really what parents send their kids to school to learn?

About the Author:  Jennifer Needham is an “accidental homeschooler” who was disillusioned enough with the public school system to pull her kids out after only one year.  As a nutrition educator, she also writes a free homeschool nutrition curriculum at her website, Nutrition for Healthy Kids.

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