Chronicle Editorial

“Skip it and move on” is no strategy now

     For years, students across the US have been taught the 21 century adage, “skip it and move on,” as a strategy for navigating the eight-year marathon-gauntlet of standardized testing. Beginning in third grade, all the way through 11, students take their seats at desks for several days, once a year, to fill in countless circular bubbles with a No. 2 pencil, for hours at a time, recalling a year’s worth of knowledge, in which they wait several months for a test score that lets them know if they were proficient enough to continue onward into the next grade.

     Students have adopted a mantra that if they don’t know the answer, skip it and move on. There’s no time to waste when their future’s on the line. Answering as many questions as possible in the given time is the best way to ensure “continued growth.”

     It’s the mantra the Iowa Legislature has adopted. It’s their mantra that’s failing Iowa students.

     Four years now the clock has been ticking as the legislature has skipped the question on state testing reform, revisiting it every year, and subsequently moving on when it doesn’t have an answer. Yet Iowa students must still suffer the consequences of archaic parameters that jeopardize their education.

     In this week’s issue of the Chronicle, we published a story regarding testing parameters for the Iowa Assessments, and their efficacy in producing measurable results. The opinion from members and leaders of our school district were a resounding “negative,” and the Chronicle agrees.

     The current testing rules requiring students complete the assessments in the specified “recommended time” is setting students up for failure.

     With the technology available to state officials, and students in this day and age, the concept of standardization is outdated. When there are specially designed programs for students with IEPs, who are ELL and advanced, there is no way a standardized test with a time limit is anyway to go about holding teachers accountable, and ensuring students learn the skills they need to better their lives.

     For years, the thought process behind standardized testing was to give students a fixed amount of time to answer questions that correspond to their grade level’s knowledge. Answering the most correct questions in the given amount of time meant students could move forward in their learning. Answering the least amount of correct questions in the given time meant a quasi-punishment of summer school or being held back.

     Not everyone is the same. The mental processes of each student operates at a different pace, just as some students are faster than others. But in a race, all students get to the finish line no matter how fast they go. In Iowa Assessments, if you aren’t fast enough, then hope you don’t get held back.

     The idea that students who finish tests faster are smarter is faulty logic and has been discredited by science. Different students have different aptitudes and different capabilities, which means they need a test designed for them. Whether they are mastering English for the first time or have a little bit of test anxiety and need some time to get going, a new test is necessary for their improvement.

     When the federal government switched to the Common Core Standards, it signaled that a new paradigm was here for educators, one that explored multiple ways to solve problems, as well as different interpretations of their solutions. States across the country followed suit in order to continue receiving federal education money. The only problem is that the test must fit the curricula. Iowa has gone just about one year too long in having archaic tests measure modern standards.

     After four years of assembling a task force to scout, access, interview and compile data on all available assessments, the Iowa Assessment Taskforce hailed the Smarter Balanced Assessments as the test of the future. Not only was the test done online, but completely disregarded the idea of “timed-tests,” as the computer learned the students’ abilities, and gave harder questions when needed, custom tailoring questions to the student level. And it was more aligned with the Iowa Core.

     The test was slated to be approved, giving the Department of Education the go ahead to change the test.

     But for some reason or other, the bill was skipped and moved on, until at the end of this past March, a new bill was introduced to make the decision for the assessment based on cost, which would ultimately eliminate Smarter Balanced, due to its estimated $10.8 million cost. The other options are Next Generation Iowa Assessments (local scoring) - $7.3 million, Next Generation Iowa Assessments (central scoring) - $9.6 million and ACT Aspire - $13.3 million.

     The twist here is that the legislature is pondering making the schools pay for the assessment, which begs the question: why not let the school’s decide, or better yet, let them pick their own test?

     To date, four year’s worth of students’ education was in a compromising position. Four years worth of students had to guess because they ran out of time. Four years worth of students didn’t have enough time to think through a question before making the correct answer.

     Whether you give a child 100 minutes or 120 minutes, if they don’t know the answer, the question will be wrong.

     Too much of standardized testing revolves around this idea that at the end of the day, it’s on the student if they don’t do well on the tests, when in reality, it’s on the system. The Iowa Assessments do not give teachers usable data to better education methods. They’re just a race to fill in the most bubbles.