Over the past week, the rural Tennessee high school where I teach is taking the annual TCAP End of Course standardized tests. End of Course tests are given in English I, II and III, Algebra I and II, US History, Chemistry and Biology. All our morning classes are cancelled, school-wide, for four consecutive days while the tests are given. Most students only take one or two of the tests, and many seniors don’t take any End of Course tested subjects. So those students who are not testing sit in homeroom or the gym for several hours to wait for testing to end. I coordinate a graduation program for students at highest risk of not graduating, and these lost teaching sessions while I administer tests are causing several of my seniors to fall further behind just as we get so close to graduation.
What makes this situation difficult to accept is that Tennessee teachers have been mandated to teach Common Core standards this year, but the End of Course tests are not aligned with the Common Core curriculum. That means that the standards we are teaching in the classroom are not the same ones being tested on the End of Course tests. Further, our legislature has voted to wait another year before adopting a Common Core aligned test, but schools will still continue be required to teach Common Core and administer the nonaligned TCAP End of Course test again next year. I think the logic of this system fails the common sense test.
Even our own state Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, said at a Senate Education Committee meeting last September that that the TCAP is ”inherently not a very strong test.” Many parents, teachers and researchers have also concluded that the TCAP is not a valid indicator of true student learning. There is a growing “opt out” movement for the Tennessee TCAP, but this is not an option for high school students taking End of Course tests because the test must count 25% of the student’s second semester grade in the tested subject. Students opting out would receive a grade of 0 for the exam.
Testing is expensive to taxpayers. It’s stressful for students, teachers and administrators. It takes time out from the job of schools – teaching students. If we are to administer a test, the benefits must outweigh the costs. I think it’s unethical to withhold instruction for students in order to administer weak, invalid tests that don’t measure the content being taught. I also think it’s unfair to base 25% of a student’s second semester grade on a test that doesn’t align with the curriculum taught during the school year.
We have become so caught up in the standardized testing culture that we believe that we must administer some type of standardized test every year. But is this evidence-based practice? Are there data that say learning stops when statewide-wide standardized testing stops for a year? If we can wait another year before selecting a test that is valid and aligned with the curriculum we are teaching, why can’t we place a moratorium on standardized testing until a valid test is adopted?