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Standardized testing, human capital, and Virginia's new governor: What is truly effective?

By Brenna Fisher
web posted November 25, 2013

Terry McAullife was just elected as governor of Virginia by a narrow margin against Ken Cuccinelli, and many Conservatives are concerned about his liberal agenda. However, one of the most concerning assertions on his platform was his plan to increase and "reform" Standards of Learning (SOL) testing in the public school system to increase human capital. The standardized testing debate has been waged since its introduction in the late 1990's, but the idea that more if it will improve human capital is absurd. Standardized tests were meant to rank and disperse scores to get an idea of the school system overall, not to determine the intelligence of one individual student. Furthermore, they were created so about one half of students answered correctly--not so the smartest students would answer correctly. Overall, McAullife's assumption that "reform" is the answer for increased human capital is absurd.

"Students' questions and approaches to learning are as unique as each of them.  The current standardized multiple choice tests are a crude instrument for assessing student achievement..." says Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. Judging hundreds of thousands of students in the public school system each year only puts pressure on teachers and false standards of failure on students. Not only will SOL's, according to McAuliffe's policy, teachers must be held accountable through the standardized testing process. Students, on the other hand, are judged on a strict regimen that places even kindergarteners under the stress of test taking. Furthermore, a study by the National Research council shows that schools who depend heavily on standardized tests are largely unsuccessful in releasing smart, capable students into the workforce. 

The standardized testing system also changes the entire classroom agenda. Rather than focusing on a broad range of subjects and encouraging a simply but vital love for learning, it forces teachers to drill a few simple concepts only for the purpose of high scores, so the actual content learned in the classroom is reduced. Not to mention that the tests subjectively set standards for the students, so a creative student, who sees a question in a new light, is deemed unintelligent because they didn't fit the narrow box of success created by school officials. Not to mention that is has been shown, as in the graph below, that family factors are a large part of a student's success, although it is never brought to question when kids with better family backgrounds score higher on tests.

SAT vs. Income
*Source of Graph: www.browndailyherald.com

In high school, it provides tainted pictures of college applicants. A student can be taught to succeed on a test but they cannot be taught to be bright, innovative, and motivated. However, with so much emphasize throughout a student's career on this one element, it is nearly impossible to become anything more than what the school board wants. 

As a homeschooler, it can be assumed I have somewhat of a biased view of the standardized testing system in public school. However, it is not without reason. I consider myself a decent student, with a 4.03 GPA and a love for learning. I score within the top ten percent when  I take the required standardized tests each year. Yet it is more important to me that I am able to tutor a young boy in writing or teach theater techniques to underprivileged kids, and then go off and form my own educated opinions and goals, than it does that I succeed on a "fill in the bubble" test. My human capital has been acquired through a love for education and fueling productivity with my passion. From a personal standpoint, I cannot logically see how increased standardized testing will affect human capital.

McAullife's policy includes focusing on progress through pretesting, which really means, more tests overall for students, and he plans to continue to judge students and teachers progress on subjective tests, all to increase a student's productivity in the workforce. However, there is no conclusive evidence that SOL's do anything except draw lines between average, above average, and below average students. In fact, they simply hinder the real goals of education. If Terry McAullife plans to truly reform the school system and increase human capital, perhaps he should seek to reform the public school system as a whole. ESR

© 2013 Brenna Fisher





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