Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific
Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in
education policy and the author of several major PRI studies.
[go to Izumi index]
We Value Self-Esteem Or Learning?
Push to drop state testing would hurt, not help, struggling
[Lance T. Izumi] 3/2/04
when Pinocchio was led astray by the fast-talking fox who promised
him fun instead of the hard work of school? By
the end of the story he turned into a donkey. Some modern-day
foxes in Sacramento want to raise student self-esteem by eliminating
state testing of second-graders, which could result in an education
for our children better suited to donkeys.
Under the current testing program, the main state test, the
California Standards Test (CST), is administered to students
in grades two through 11. This test measures student achievement
in reading, math and several other subjects. Correcting a defect
in previous tests, the CST is aligned with the state's tough
academic content standards so that students are being tested
on what they should be learning in the classroom.
Legislation authored by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley,
and sponsored by the powerful California Teachers Association,
however, would exclude second-graders from the testing requirement.
The main argument for the bill, which is expected
to pass the Legislature by month's end, is that testing is
for second-graders. Hancock says that she fears the tests "may
do harm to a number of children in ... damaging their self-esteem." If
children perform poorly, Hancock worries that, "It makes
school the place where you fail, especially for young children,
out of the gate." Hancock's argument, however, is seriously
Scarlet Fs aren't pinned on children. Poor performance by a
child on the state test isn't the end of the educational process,
but the beginning. Test results allow teachers, administrators
and parents to see student weaknesses and target remedial help.
While the teachers union wants to eliminate second-grade testing
as part of its continuing assault on the state school accountability
system, many classroom teachers value the information they glean
from test scores.
Christina Andreas, who works with struggling
students at Walnut Elementary School in Chino, relies heavily
on the exams to identify
students needing extra assistance. She says that testing "should
be used to drive instruction and identify areas in need of intervention
as early as possible."
Indeed, if testing were conducted beginning in the third grade
with results not coming in until the start of grade four, a student
would be halfway through elementary school before this valuable
information became available.
That would be disastrous especially for students with reading
difficulties. Reading problems not detected early often cause
underachievement throughout a student's academic career.
Hancock says that in-class assessments, such as textbook end-of-the-chapter
exams, could be used instead of state testing. However, there
is wide disparity among teachers in their use of in-class tests.
Some teachers, influenced by the anti-testing bias of university
schools of education, use in-class tests sporadically. State
testing is uniform and administered to all. Individual student
scores can be collected over time and achievement tracked. All
of which is why state testing is so much more useful to educators,
lawmakers and researchers.
Finally, Hancock says that time spent on testing
should be spent instead on instruction. But since the test
is aligned with the
state standards, it serves an instructional purpose as a motivator
for teachers to teach to the standards. Los Angeles Unified school
superintendent Roy Romer says, "We gain from testing second-graders," because
it allows school officials "to know whether instruction
is occurring and how to improve it." The strongly rising
second-grade test scores in Los Angeles seem to bear him out.
Eliminating second-grade testing is shortsighted. Testing students
early reveals their deficiencies, allows the targeting of extra
help, and improves teaching and learning. The resulting increased
achievement, not the lack of testing, is the best way to promote
first appeared in the Orange County Register
2004 Pacific Research Institute