In Our View: Standardized Tests not Evil

Poll shows parents back exams, so teachers should view them as useful tool

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Teachers across the country have revolted in recent years — understandably to some extent — against an emphasis on standardized tests. But a recent survey provides a counterpoint to the vast propaganda against such exams.

A poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that parents nationwide have a much different viewpoint about the direction of education reform. Surveying parents across all school-age groups, the query found:

• 61 percent of parents think their children take an appropriate number of standardized tests.

• 75 percent of parents say standardized tests are a solid measure of their children's abilities.

• 69 percent of parents say such exams are a good measure of a school's quality.

Of course, public-opinion polls don't necessarily provide definitive answers between right and wrong. We're guessing that a majority of people would say New York City is the capital of New York state, but being in the majority wouldn't mean they are correct.

Still, whether or not parents are right about the efficacy of standardized tests, their opinion matters. That is something teachers must keep in mind in their ongoing war against such exams, which are increasingly used to assess schools and instructors.

The complaint from teachers is that gearing instruction toward particular tests is taking up too much class time at the expense of broader learning. In January, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle staged a widespread boycott of the state's MAP test, an acronym for Measures of Academic Progress. In May, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent José Banda caved in and ruled that Seattle high schools may opt out of the MAP test in the 2013-14 school year.

Teachers undoubtedly have difficult — and vitally important — jobs. While their critics point out that instructors have much vacation time and excellent benefits, it also is worth noting that teachers often do a great deal of work off the clock, and that trying to maintain the attention of dozens of youngsters or pre-teens or teens is a unique skill.

But when it comes to the issue of standardized testing, teachers should keep in mind that taxpayers are the boss. Like it or not, taxes pay the bills, and the public is eager for ways to better assess the capabilities of instructors. New systems for evaluating teachers are increasingly focusing on the results of standardized testing, and until teachers unions come up with a better plan, they are fighting a losing battle in the mind of the public.

Standardized exams such as the MAP test are not the end-all, be-all of teacher evaluations. But, particularly if they are used to assess student progress throughout the course of the school year, they can be a helpful measuring stick.

Both locally and statewide, student test scores edged upward last year, leading Randy Dorn, state superintendent of public instruction, to say, "Students are continuing to make progress. Science and math scores are up in almost every grade. Those trends are due to the great work that our science and math teachers do every day, and the fact that we have new standards that are clear and address what students need now and in the future."

Which brings us to perhaps the most important portion of the Associated Press-NORC Center survey: 56 percent of parents said classroom observations should be part of teachers' evaluations, and 74 percent said they want districts to help struggling teachers. If teachers can come to view standardized tests as the beneficial tool that they can be, rather than some evil foisted upon them, the tests can be useful.