What Can You Really Test?
Another criticism of standardized tests is that they cannot measure the sort of understandings we expect the schools to be teaching such as writing and scientific inquiry. As Audrey Qualls, a co-author of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, one of the most widely used standardized tests, states, �It may be very, very important to teach students how to actually set up an experiment. That's a major goal of science. ... I can't measure that very well with a multiple-choice type test.� There are a number of important skills that a test can�t measure: �Whether or not a student actually asks questions. Whether they use background information appropriately. Whether they're part of a conversation.� She goes on to put this line of thinking better than I could, so I�ll quote her at length: When I think about what a school should do or what makes a school good or bad, it's far more than how well they teach a few sets of skills. When we think about what we've [asked] schools and teachers to do, it's the developmental growth of these little five-year-olds and six-year-olds that come in a door, all the way to being productive citizens, able to go to college or able to go on to work. And if I think about, what does that mean, it truly has to be more than just achievement in a few basic areas. One, I want them to develop an appreciation and value of societal norms. Being a good citizen. Caring about learning. Contributing to your community. I can't measure that with a test. When I think about what makes a good school, I want to think about, do teachers have the commitment to help a student who may not be the traditional student, who needs a little bit more? ... A test score doesn't capture that. ... So if I were to try to say, "OK, all of that sounds wonderful. And I want the school to do it," but all that I can easily measure is your achievement over some basic skills, I've cheated the schools. ... All quotes from interview for frontline.