What will standardized tests measure?

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

When local school children are given standardized tests, and schools are rated according to averages of scores received by the range of students in attendance, who is really being measured? A. Parents. B. The students who are tested. C. Teachers. D. The entire community.

Parents are the first teachers. They bring children into the world and provide for their basic needs as well as emotional support and initial intellectual stimulation. Some child psychologists say this phase of a child's life is when the die is cast and determines whether a particular child will grow to be a productive adult and functional member of society.

Every student's capacity to learn and develop emotionally is influenced by inherited traits and influences of the environment in which they are either nurtured or left to find their own way. Standardized tests will therefore provide an opportunity to measure the willingness and readiness of various Juneau children to either excel or simply accept mediocrity. For children with learning disabilities, this articulation of measured expectations will broaden a divide modern society has been working in recent decades to bridge with special needs inclusion programs.

Teachers are an easy target for those who conjure up a means for measuring standardized criteria of school performance - they also become an easy excuse for weak scores. After all, teachers are trained to apply what they have themselves learned in specific subject categories, together with what is known about physical and cognitive development, given certain classroom management techniques. It is the teachers who are expected to elevate each individual student's knowledge and understanding simultaneously in the classroom grouping according to the district curriculum.

Since October I have worked almost every school day as a substitute teacher in the Juneau School District and any speculation that teachers might be demoralized by proposed upcoming school rating system requirements (as an extension of individual student test scores) is an understatement. In fact, this is only one of a number of latest career letdowns many of our educational professionals are facing with dignity and a collective sigh.

The ready willingness to give administrators a substantial raise early on, the constant and on-going requirement for teachers to go beyond the call of duty to accommodate ever-greater numbers of expectations with ever-diminishing resources, and the realization that even their own well-paid union staff chose this year to embarrass all NEA-Alaska members by publicizing their own contract disputes, have contributed to a sense of inevitability as Juneau teachers consider future service locally in the face of options elsewhere and the state of current contract negotiations.

Working to cover for absent teachers in virtually every school in the Juneau School District this year has enhanced my own realization that each school in Juneau is unique, with remarkably dedicated staff. They daily receive the children and apply their skills, training, abilities and resources to enrichment of the educational experience. This is done in an even-handed collegial manner with extraordinary effort made for those kids having more need, or for others having greater capacity, than the mean. I have come to know many of these children, and recognized the names of state workers, business owners, federal workers, private sector employees and citizens in varied other segments of our community who are their parents.

Whether we have children ourselves, each adult in this community was once a child for a preciously short time, and given the effort and resources dedicated to education of future generations of Alaskans, the entire community shares a local responsibility to assure no child is left behind.

Donn Liston is a product of Alaska public education and gained a master's degree in education at the University of Alaska Southeast in 1989. He worked two years for the Association of Alaska School Boards and nine years for NEA-Alaska as senior support staff in the Juneau office.

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