Friday, December 10, 2010

Four Reasons Innovative Educators Should Boycott Standardized Tests

As I entered the 21st century, I read a research study in the TC Record that always stuck in my mind. It was called, “Effects of Computer Versus Paper Administration of a State-Mandated Writing Assessment.” You can read the results of the study here.

This is a summary of what the study concludes:
Like the previous studies, this article reports that open-ended Language Arts items that require students to generate responses using paper and pencil severely underestimate the achievement of students accustomed to writing using a computer. Combining the effects found in this study with those found in a prior study, this article estimates that students accustomed to writing using a computer under-perform on the standardized Language Arts test by four to eight points on an eighty point scale. This article concludes by recommending that state testing programs that employ open-ended items in Language Arts provide students with the option of composing responses on paper or on computer.
More than a decade has gone by, and guess what? We’re still using outdated paper and pencil assessments to assess students. Innovative educators should be mad as hell and I don’t think we should take it anymore.

Four Reasons to Boycott Standardized Tests:
  1. Inaccurate conclusions of the effectiveness of innovative educators.
    In New York City they want to release teacher performance results which are based in large part on the outdated standardized tests their students are required to take. Passionate, innovative educators who are using 21st century technologies with their students will be penalized because they’re students have developed a modern writing process which can not be evaluated using outdated assessments.
  2. A double-edged sword when assessing success of technology grants
    As a grant manager I am required to show students progress on outdated standardized tests. I want the grant funding, so I am required to say they will show improvement, but I know the facts. Outdated assessments can’t measure the 21st century skills my students are developing and the reality is that using 21st century skills will actually result in a decrease in test scores even though my students are better writers and writing for an authentic audience.
  3. Outdated assessments are driving outdated instruction
    I was the PD manager for a 1:1 deployment of 24 schools. In some of the schools I went to students were not allowed to use laptops for writing or math because the students were taking a traditional tests and the schools did not want to risk getting shut down as a result of students using modern tools. They knew instinctively that when a student becomes accustomed to working with technology their thinking and creative processes change. This is shameful that today’s outdated assessments are holding our students in the past, and forcing innovative educators to carry out this edict.
  4. Unnecessary duplication of efforts.
    During my visits to tech-rich schools I often see students working with both paper/pencil and technology. Thousands of trees are killed and hours are wasted because educators want to ensure that students will be able to do well on the outdated tests. This requires students to do work on the computer, but also with paper/pencil so they can perform well on the tests that are stuck in the past.
Testing companies are making millions on the backs of our students and teachers. They are not updating assessments because it is not cost-effective for them. Making a profit, not ensuring our kids profit from their education is what drives these companies.

Innovative educators know the truth. This is wrong and we can mobilize and connect like no other. Here in NY the tests are several months away. Do we have the courage and power to boycott the tests and really start preparing students for the world in which they live? I hope so.


  1. Lisa, although I am not in the classroom I would support a campaign 100% not just for the duplication, lack of imagination and failure to respond to a reality but also a terrible shift to evaluating teachers on the basis of numbers generated by standardized testing. The unfortunate thing is that many school boards do not allocate dollars to supporting computer needs. All too often they use funds to market schools with a promise of a vision of the future but they don't deliver. I've seen more progress on this issue over the past 2 years and hopefully there is enough support in our PLN's to make a difference. Perhaps we can all garner support from parents to see the wisdom in boycotting standardized tests.

  2. @Lorna, I agree. Harnessing the voice of parents who value moving out of the past and into the present is powerful. I wonder what the ramifications would be? Surely if they mobilized it would make a huge statement. Maybe we could start a Facebook page for Educators and parents united to boycott outdated standardized assessments.

    As far as your point about dollars allocated to supporting computer issue I talk about often is thinking outside the ban and allowing the students to bring the technology they already own to school. Schools would save millions. Also, internet companies should be required to provide affordable options for low income families so they have access in their homes. In the end the companies would still profit as they would gain customers who otherwise wouldn't be purchasing their services. At the very least in places like NYC where there are projects they should provide internet in a community room where people could go to have access to the internet.

    When it comes to providing tech, it's not really that difficult or costly. It just requires a shift in thinking and that is where the difficulty lies.

  3. Hi Lisa.We have communicated through Twitter. @pbaques is my twitter name.

    I am intrigued by and interested in your thoughts. I am interested in innovative education and have been developing a cross-discipline program that mixes math, creativity and technology. I am seeking to develop it further... as an educating business.

    While it is true that big bucks get bigger through providing less than perfect books and materials, I don't believe that teachers left to their own devices could cut it. I am a (math) teacher myself, and have sipped coffee in more faculty lounges and attended more committee meetings than I could ever remember. I have developed my own philosophy... and the elevator pitch for it is:

    Business will always keep a grip on education. By the same token that schools are and always will be run by administrators, not teachers, the business of education will be run by businessmen, not educators.

    What educators can and should do is educate business to run the business of education in such a way that it serves education as much as itself.

    I know this may sound vague, abstract, almost meaningless. But I do have a plan and know what I am talking about. Perhaps we could communicate by email, and see if we have enough of a common ground to explore future collaboration.

    have a great weekend.

  4. Hi, a Facebook page for parents and educators already exists -!/pages/Parents-Kids-Against-Standardized-Testing/117479641627357. Join in, please!