Is There Too Much Testing in the New Common Core?
The State of Utah has adopted the new Common Core and hired a company to write not only end of the year tests, but tests that teachers are expected to give their students throughout the year. The middle schools in most of the state are developing weekly tests that students will take in each subject covering the learning goals established in the new Common Core. The students who pass these weekly tests are given enhancement activities while those who do not pass are retaught the skill and retested. Is all of this testing good for students?
The purpose of testing is to determine if a student has mastered a skill, but not all objectives are easily tested. In English Language Arts, students are expected to write two essays: an argumentative and an informational essay with both using correct M.L.A. documentation. In order to achieve that goal, students need to develop the ability to analyze information, evaluate its relevance, select appropriate information and write it in the coherent, well-written essay that uses parenthetical footnotes and a Works Cited. To do this students need to not only have skills in punctuation, grammar and usage (the old standbys), but be able to think critically, and compose a carefully thought-through response on command. Developing these skills takes a variety of learning tactics: modeling good writing, discussions and analysis of nonfiction, materials, as well as grammar, punctuations and usage drills. More importantly the student needs to write, reflect and rewrite. If students are taking weekly tests on a single learning goal, the teacher will not have time needed to complete the more important learning activities.
As well as the two essays, the students must pass a test on reading skills, literary analysis, vocabulary development and various other language arts skills. Some of these skills could be contained in weekly tests, but then schools are focusing on the least important skills and the students with the lowest potential for success. Schools should meet the educational needs of all students, not just the lowest ten percent. The new Common Core requires teachers to increase the difficulty (lexiles) of the reading materials that is taught. That is a positive move. The new Common Core requires students to read both fiction and non-fiction and is not dissimilar to curriculum that was used in schools thirty years ago. With the advent of Adolescent Literature, many school allowed the reading materials to decline so that many books that had previously been taught in fifth grade were now being taught in the ninth grade. This too is a positive note. The new Common Core Curriculum not only focuses on fiction, but nonfiction. Since students need to be able read non-fiction to be successful in the real world, this too is an advantage. In order to motivate students to read these more difficult pieces of literature and non-fiction, teachers need time and an opportunity to introduce them in creative ways or students will quickly become disinterested and bored. If teachers are expected to give these weekly tests, they will be forced to resort to short condensed of selected bits of literature and articles instead of full pieces of literature. This means our students will become illiterate and lack any culture.
End of the year testing has its place, but the administrators and legislatures need to get out of the classroom and let the teachers do their magic. Teachers are not robots and neither are students. Weekly testing will reduce what our students know, help them become uncultured, illiterate, unprepared young people who will drop out of school from sheer boredom. Don’t let that happen.