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Michael Vaughn

Bursting the Standardized Testing Bubble

I’ve had enough of scantron bubble sheets. As a father of four school-aged, bubble-tested kids and someone who worked many years for bubble-testing school districts, fair to say that I’m solidly “inside the bubble” on this topic. And I’m ready to get out. According to Education Post’s recent poll of parents, I’m not alone. There’s clearly widespread concern among us that our schools are spending too much time wearing down #2 pencils and not enough time tapping into our students’ enthusiasm for active learning and intellectual exploration. The current testing climate not only produced lots of bad bubble tests that measured mostly shallow learning—fact memorization and formula-application acumen—but it also caused classroom time to be eaten up by test drills that pretty much amounted to a lesson in how to beat the bubbles. But now there’s change coming on two fronts. First, state, district and school leaders are responding to concerns from families and teachers and taking a hard look at their testing levels and schedules. Here in Colorado, the state has formed a Standards and Assessments Task Force in response to testing concerns. And second, there are new, better tests on the way. These interactive, computer-based assessments will not just be a checklist of facts and formulas. They will move way beyond the bubble. They will challenge students to analyze and problem solve. They will measure the basic skills, plus the deeper learning that is at the heart of the Common Core standards. As concerned as I am about test prep and overtesting, I still want my kids to take a standardized state assessment every year. I want to know how they’re progressing, where they’re excelling and struggling, and how well they’re being prepared for life after high school. I have lots of company here. In our poll, 88% of school parents found this statement convincing: “Periodic standardized testing makes sure students are on track, improves student outcomes and academic achievement, and lets teachers and parents know what the child's strengths and weaknesses are.” I want my kids tested—with periodic check-ins throughout the year to allow their teachers to stay on top of my kids’ learning needs and development, and with an annual standardized test to measure my kids’ abilities against a high college-and-career-readiness bar. Also, as both a taxpayer and a school parent, I want annual standardized tests to tell me how the schools in my community are performing. Just as good tests give important information to parents that helps support and improve learning, they also provide communities with critical information that helps them learn from the schools that are working and intervene at the schools that need to improve. Fewer tests, better aligned to challenging learning standards. That seems to be the new movement in testing. That’s more in line with parents’ overall attitudes toward testing. And that’s reason to raise a glass of, well, bubbly.
Michael Vaughn
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...

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