Despite accountability pressure, core subjects shouldn't be sacrificed for test prep
- Paymon Rouhanifard, the former superintendent of New Jersey's Camden City School District, writes for Chalkbeat that he found assessments championed by many districts across the country — including his — are cutting into time for core subjects including the sciences, arts and civics.
- While he was superintendent, Rouhanifard got rid of his district’s school report card, which publicly noted performance on assessments. While he doesn’t believe these exams should be completely eliminated, he does think they should be used differently, and more so as “a dipstick to measure systems.”
- Changing the way student learning is assessed by schools and districts, as well as how much time is spent on preparing children for these tests, may result in a minor drop in scores, he said. But that, he added, may be what’s needed to get children the education they truly deserve.
Rouhanifard left his position believing the emphasis the country has placed on assessments has harmed students and the education they’ve received. In his view, the biggest drawbacks of standardized testing are the loss of instruction time, along with less attention and time to help students and specific student groups, including English language learners and those with disabilities.
Test prep also crowds instruction time, and while this prep may lead to students getting better scores, they’re not necessarily learning as much as they could be through lessons. Rouhanifard also believes there is some bias in the way tests are designed, which he said he would like to see addressed.
While curriculum administrators may not be able to remove assessments entirely, they could consider how much time is spent on test preparation and what is missing from a student’s education as a result. However, it's important to also prepare for potential pushback from parents should children spend less time preparing for standardized tests, as these exams are often used to determine their placement in school — or what schools they're eligible to attend.
At the end of the day, schools could — and in some cases, are — starting to use other measurements to make decisions on how student growth, including using portfolios to show how they progress through their education. These first steps may be part of a shift that puts assessments back into the role they were initially designed for: seeing how a child is doing at a particular time, rather than setting a definition of a child’s education.
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