Why Do Teachers Think Testing Is Unfair?

I am a strong believer in standardized tests.

This is That Very Picture of Enthusiasm You've Heard About

I want an objective measurement of how each of my students is doing. That is the best way for me to discover their weaknesses and mine, so that I can shore up both.

I want to know how my teaching compares to the teaching of my peers—if someone else is doing a better job at teaching a topic, I will run to that teacher to learn how they’re doing it. Teachers want to help their students.

I especially want objective evidence of the great work I do!

Some teachers will tell me “Oh, I don’t pay any attention to tests. I know how my kids are doing, and that’s how I grade them.”

Some teachers just can’t face how little impact they’re having. Some would rather mistrust test results than accept that many inner-city students don’t learn very much at all because their un-parenting has very effectively taught them to ignore or disrespect the adult world.

Then, there’s also this:

Teachers have seen too many tests of suspect quality. These focus on picayune skills, use confusing wording, or have errors that remain uncorrected despite multiple teacher requests.

  • Skills tests should gradually progress in challenge through the year as students’ skills presumably increase. Instead, our school saw District-designed reading test scores rise, fall, rise, then fall. Which is more likely: That all students’ skills rose and fell at exactly the same times of year, or that the tests were poorly-designed?
  • One-fourth of the questions on one Math test were about prime numbers–fascinating to mathematicians, but absolutely non-essential until calculus.  Shouldn’t elementary years focus on the Big Four (+ – x /) and whether a student can apply these to realistic situations, before worrying about prime numbers?
  • On one District test, our students were supposed to find two prepositional phrases in the sentence He had to go to the store. Good luck. There is only one preposition.
  • Kids don’t reed gud nowadays, and their vocabularies are teeny. Math word problems are too often written too obtusely for today’s children. Why not use age-friendly “kid-speak”? The goal in Math learning is not to simultaneously challenge vocabulary and syntax, is it?

    And typical unit conversion questions use dimes, dimes, dimes, then ask for the answer in pennies. No problem, except that many adults, much less children, miss such switcheroos when reading a lengthy question. Why not bold that word “pennies“, or just say right out “Don’t forget to convert your answer to pennies from dimes.”?

    Adult-Speak Equivalent:

    “Initially having four of the above items, purchase a 25-cent gumball, and, by non-chemical means, transform your change to different decimal coinage, each coin of which has a value one-tenth as great as the original. Select the appropriate combination of coins and denomination from the choices shown below.

    So, stop blaming teachers for mistrusting standardized tests.

    I was in the minority. When I was a teacher, with every test, I analyzed which questions were missed by most students and planned my new teaching around that. But then, I is a nerd. And my extreme efforts cost me time and my health and, in part, my family.

    But I was paid less than any newly-hired high-school city garbage collectors lacking high school diplomas. That made it all worthwhile. 🙂
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Who Will Guard the Guards?

How dare we link teacher pay to test results when the people who are judged by the tests administer the tests?

Vigorously Defending Students' Rights to Learn the RIGHT Way

If you know that other teachers are cheating on their tests, and their pay will be increased by it, aren’t you a patsy if you don’t cheat?

If you want to link pay to test scores, hire outsiders with no stake in the outcome to administer the tests, or film or webcast teachers as they do so.
Even if no conscious cheating occurs, it is a long-known well-known fact: If you will get a benefit from a given result, your actions may make that result more likely–even if you don’t do it on purpose.

Teachers can help students in ways they feel are innocent—especially if they feel tests are unfair to poor readers, English-learners, or low-income students. They can:

  • Fail to prevent students from copying from others through distraction, teacher fatigue, or lax supervision.
  • “Clarify” test questions for students.
  • Translate portions into a student’s home language, subconsciously providing additional hints.
  • When reading questions aloud, subconsciously reveal correct answers through change in voice.

(This may be where some teacher erasures come from: “Well, the answer most of them chose should have been correct, also, so I’ll give them credit for that one, also.”)

Here is something you may not have known:

Different schools administer the tests at different times.   Many teachers at schools that receive tests earlier share test questions and answers with their friends at the “get-tests-later” schools. These in-the-know teachers can then teach their classes using the actual test questions, or use almost-identical ones.

If you were a teacher who didn’t have this advantage, how would you feel about your salary increases being linked to your students’ scores versus theirs?
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