Data Walls

Well, it’s been a long time since I have posted here, but now that it’s summer, I have a little more time on my hands to read for pleasure and post my thoughts on the current education climate in the U.S.

I just read this really interesting article from the Washington Post about “data walls.” Basically, these “walls” are posters that schools put up in the hallways of elementary schools displaying how their students perform on standardized tests. Each student’s standardized test scores are presented in a tidy little graph that’s color-coded to determine who is behind, and who is excelling.

“And once blossoms were on the trees, we were just a few weeks from the exams that would mark us as passing school or a failing one. We were either analyzing practice tests, taking a test or prepping for the next test.”

What this article gets at is something that many parents and families have struggled with for many years. In our current testing-focused climate, we have have lost sight of what is really important: educating our children well. Children have become numbers, and numbers have become currency for schools and teachers. Some student test scores influence school funding and teachers salaries so much so that we have devalued and forgotten about what goes on the other 7 months of the school year, when testing is not taking place.

“When policymakers mandate tests and buy endlessly looping practice exams to go with them, their image of education is from 30,000 feet.”

What has become a further problem as a result of our testing epidemic is what happens when we examine what these tests are actually measuring. What this article hints at is how these test scores might really be measuring access that students have to valuable resources that help them prepare for such tests. And this is exactly what the research shows us. Standardized tests were intended for leveling the playing field, but really they are just making it worse and increasing the achievement gap that we are fighting to hard to close.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thinking: away from test scores and toward a more holistic view of learning.

John Oliver & Standardized Tests

John Oliver’s new(ish) show, Last Week Tonight, airs weekly on Sundays on HBO. A number of weeks ago, he did a special episode on standardized testing in the United States and the issues that they raise. The show paid special attention to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which is the standardized test that my research focuses on.

This particular episode discusses the difficulties many children face when taking standardized tests, the time it takes away from actual learning in the classroom, and the multi-billion dollar testing industries that profit off children’s time and stress.

Not only are these tests stressful for students to take, but teacher salaries are linked with student performance. This is why they call these kinds of tests “high-stakes.” There are serious consequences associated with how children perform on these tests including how much funding the school receives, student grade promotion decisions, and teacher evaluations.

What’s worse is that these tests are negatively impacting schools, students, and teachers in some of the lowest income districts in the country. My research shows the disparities that these tests can create along socioeconomic and ethnic lines.