On Evaluating Standardized Tests

I just read an article from the Washington Post that disturbed me: When An Adult Took A Standardized Test Forced on Kids. It was written by Marion Brady and she talks about an educated adult friend of hers who took the 10th grade standardized tests.

I wouldn’t be writing this post if her friend validated the test by doing exceeding well. After all the man has a couple of masters degrees and some hours toward a PhD, and holds a job with a lot of responsibility. Here’s the problem: he did so poorly on the test that he would have been told he had no real chance of succeeding in college. By all other measures, he is a success!

The most important institution in our nation preparing us for living and thriving in the real world does not seem fit to handle it. You could say it has been too long since he was in school, and if he were a sophomore he would have been better at it–the article mentions that, too, but I still think it flashes a huge problem. A disconnect with reality. Education in this country works great for some, but not for others–for some it appears it misses with what’s really important: a connection with real life experience. It failed in this circumstance, but it also fails in areas where the environment is different from what the standard test crafters know it to be; I suspect their own reality may be skewed by a lack of real experience in those areas.

Why do we have these tests anyway? To measure that our students are ready to move forward, that the school is teaching them something worthwhile, that the students are ready for the world of work or prepared for college. When a college graduate and otherwise sane individual takes that test and does not do well, it tells me a high school sophomore’s world concept is vastly different from the one he is about to enter.

The question for trainers and developers: are we to train new employees based on the disconnect? Are we to figure out the differences and provide answers? It would seem we’d be doing the teacher’s job. Now, I understand it was the government that required these tests and the schools often feel they have to teach to the tests instead of what they feel is really important to the students’ future.

Who’s fighting for the students now–armed with this small piece of information. Perhaps other educated, work and life-savvy adults ought to take the exams as well. We might learn something. It surely enough to make us mad enough to fight. Now to get principals and other school administrators to take the tests and see if they don’t have similar results. I suspect they’ll do better because they live in that world. After all their world is a different reality. But whose world are we preparing our students for? Sure, some will be teachers, but many will not.

Is it time for the standard makers to take the tests as well as see how they do? Revisionist thinking, anyone?

When I administer a test, it is to see if my students can use what they have been taught as well as test their knowledge on a given subject. I may be naive, but I think that is correct priority. Some teachers and administrators have never done anything else other than teach; their environment is limited to school houses and what others tell them should be done. Some teachers and administrators may live in the past where we recited data over and over again until we memorized it; today application is everything and the data we recited over and over again is available at a moment’s notice if we know where to look on the Internet. We can do research in a tenth of the time it used to take–even less, I’m sure.

Critical thinking and problem solving should be a part of every class and related to NOW. I’m not sure it is. I’m sure there are teachers who teach the answers to the standardized tests, the very ones which may be in need of an overhaul. Of course that’s just my educated opinion, but admittedly I’m not an educator, although I do teach college classes. And, I have a couple of Master’s degrees and some work toward a PhD. No, I didn’t take the test.

In fairness to Big Education, the Big Government took away many financial resources and demanded more from our educators. We make it less desirable to teach, one of our most honorable professions, than to work for a private company. Not that there is anything wrong with private, public or non-profit organizations, but maybe it is time to start them to have a relationship with educators earlier. If we can’t get educators to the reality, let’s bring the reality to them. Even college programs that interface with private industry or government, providing learning opportunities for students and problem solving for business and government, have trouble getting off the ground. Other countries are better at it than we are. Maybe if we start earlier…who knows.

Are we getting too big and becoming compartmentalized as a country. I hope not. Our students’ education is too important. No one would deny that, but we must make sure it is the right education, and if we are educating them the right way, we must measure it in way that is useful. Primary and Secondary education’s goal should not be just to prepare for higher education, but for life that may or should include that higher education as well. If I knew then what I know now? But no one taught me those things. I mostly taught myself how to live in this complicated, often crazy and chaotic world. It would have been nice if I hadn’t had to. I suspect, too, my life might have been different. Yours?

Enough of a rant for now. Everyone should be concerned about education–but especially parents and students. Perhaps, trainers and human resource providers are in a better position to see what comes in the door. Do us a favor? Ask to take the standardized tests to see for yourself. You’re forgiven if you don’t understand the new math; it seems to change every year. But then, is it the new math or concepts of math, or logic and problem solving we should be testing? Attend school board meetings and announce your sentiments. Meet with teachers and do the same. Feedback, not acquiescence is what they need in order to send the message up Capitol Hill.

Enough of me. Please comment. I may be missing something very important that needs to be said. I welcome comments from educators as well; I know I put you on the spot. I am a communicator and a Cave Man trainer; I am always looking for the disconnects because it is important to make connections as the Cave Man did in his world, trying to survive. Check out my world, my web site, and my eBook, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. I don’t always talk like everyone else, but I’m standardized for my world and I hope you are for yours. Happy training

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