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Common Core @ Home: ELA - How will my child’s individual test score affect her personally?

Part Five of a continuing series

Kiersten Greene, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy education at SUNY New Paltz. She was born in the Hudson Valley, and recently returned to the region after living in New York City for 15 years, where she taught 5th grade. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching, you can find her knitting.

Do you have a homework question for Kiersten? Submit your question here. 

Dear Kiersten, How will my child’s individual test score affect her personally?

The short answer is: it’s unclear.

Standardized tests are, in theory, a way for teachers, administrators, and parents to gauge whether or not children are meeting grade-appropriate benchmarks as they journey through school. In reality, standardized tests are not about children or measuring their strengths and weaknesses — they’re about something else entirely.

Remember taking standardized tests in elementary school when we were kids? Those of us who went to public school in the 70s or 80s (or thereabouts) took standardized tests at one point or another. We didn’t have months and months of test prep, and our individual scores weren’t etched on our psyches and attached to our names as young children. Test day came and went without much fanfare, and schooling continued without extended interruption or the accompanying panic of today’s tests.

Maybe I’m romanticizing it, but back then, the stakes weren’t so high — information gathered by standardized tests wasn’t used to assess our teachers or determine the amount of funding our schools would receive. In fact, I don’t know what happened to the test score data from tests back in elementary school—no one really talked about it after test day. Other than receiving suggestions about possible future careers (does anyone else remember those exams?), I’m not sure any of the assessment data made its way back into our curriculum or informed my teachers’ teaching.

Your question is great on so many levels, because it forces us to step back and focus on the simplest-but-most-difficult-to-answer question: why are we testing students again?

There is the obvious — we need benchmarks that help teachers, parents, and administrators understand whether or not students are on target at any given grade level.  And of course it’s helpful to have a system for measuring progress across a span of years — adjusting our practice according to students’ needs is, after all, only possible when we gather information. But the levels of anxiety and stress that students currently experience as a result of all the test-prep-driven instruction in our schools is a high price to pay in exchange for test scores that don’t directly drive instruction.

Out of curiosity, I did a cursory Google search for various iterations of the following: “how are standardized test scores used?” and “what does my child’s test score mean?” Most of the links in the search results pointed to sites that explain the deleterious effects of high-stakes testing on our children today. While Google doesn’t have all the answers, you generally know something is amiss when it fails to produce answers to seemingly straightforward questions.

I am almost certain that your child’s test score has the potential to affect her emotions, her confidence, and her future relationship to testing. But beyond that, I’m not sure her test score has any personal effect at all.

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