mic for blog

OK, I think I’ve waited long enough. We’re far enough into the school year (and far enough into my blog) that it’s safe to talk about testing, right? Good, I’ll make it quick.

I like tests—tests of character, tests of mettle, tests of courage, tests of learning standards. They can tell you a lot about yourself. And—in the case of that last one I snuck in there—they can tell you a lot about your kids.

And surprisingly, lots of other parents feel the same way about tests. We at Education Post just released the results of a poll of more than 1000 public school parents, and significantly more parents said they believe standardized tests have a positive impact on schools (44 percent) than those who said they have a negative impact (30 percent). Given the beating that standardized testing has taken over the past few years, I was surprised by that support.

Until I read a little further in our poll results….to the point where we moved past what parents think about tests and asked them about how they feel about tests, based on their experience with them.

That’s when the flashbacks to bubble-sheet drills and opt-out rallies started.

Parents just don’t see tests being used to help their kids. They basically see them as a bureaucratic compliance exercise—the system requires it to keep tabs on how schools and districts are performing…and that’s where its use ends.

And that’s hard to argue.

Having come from the “system,” I know firsthand that we’ve done a lousy job of using tests to benefit kids. The benefit has been to “Kids”—as a whole, as the people who the system serves and protects, not as individual kids who would benefit—along with their parents and teachers—from prompt, useful, accessible information about how they’re doing in the classroom.

And as a parent of four kids, I know firsthand that I’ve always received late and lousy reports about how they did on their annual tests—a form letter that comes a school year after the tests were taken and reads like it was written by the same machine that graded the tests, with scale scores and percentiles hidden somewhere in the morass, begging for translation and elucidation.

This graph shows the parental dissatisfaction pretty clearly:


All of those top “parents want” lines are student-centered, not system-centered. It’s their schools, their system. We need to pay attention and make the changes they ask for and make tests work for them and their kids.

We’ll see if the system is up to the test.