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Originally published September 30, 2013 at 4:36 PM | Page modified October 1, 2013 at 5:30 PM

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Guest: The endless rounds of standardized testing for Washington students

It’s time to take a step back and rethink our state’s obsession with standardized testing, writes guest columnist Trish Millines Dziko.

Special to The Times

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WE know it takes more than passing a test to be ready for college, career and citizenship. And yet we continue to push standardized tests as if they’re useful.

We know they’re not — the scores don’t come until August, long after they’re useful for the teachers to help students. On top of that, the test is a moving target. Our state has changed the assessment-testing system three years in a row. It’s about to change the system again.

It’s time to take a step back and rethink our approach.

To quickly recap: In 2009, there was the WASL. In 2010, the WASL went out the window and the MSP and HSPE were ushered in. In 2011 the EOC 1 and 2 were introduced to measure math achievement in algebra and geometry respectively and in 2012 the EOC B was added to measure high-school-science achievement.

Thankfully nothing has changed in 2013 but wait — next year we get the test for Common Core with Next Generation Science following on its heels.

With all those standard and assessment changes, new curriculum gets developed, teachers get retrained, new teacher-evaluation systems are proposed and new digital tools are developed. Before you know it, a whole cottage industry emerges.

And through all this plus billions of dollars spent, we still have a so-called achievement gap. Several Seattle teachers revolted this year, and boycotted the MAP assessment, which Seattle Public Schools decided, in May, to make voluntary at the high-school level.

Passing tests may satisfy one academic element for college entry, but national data show students don’t do so well once they get there. According to data collected in 2007 by the Access to Success initiative, a project of the National Association of System Heads, bachelor’s degree rates are nothing to get excited about: African Americans 18 percent, Latinos 11 percent, whites 34 percent, low income students 9 percent.

If your entire K-12 career has been focused on passing a standardized test, then there’s little room to prepare you for the other skills you need in college, such as time management, collaboration and synthesizing content.

It’s time to see things from the student perspective. How do you think it feels to be lumped in the “underachieving” group and told in so many ways that you are less than? To read about how hopeless it is to get you to achieve? To hear some adults blame your parents’ lack of participation for your failure? Not very motivating, is it?

Students should be graded, not just on the answers they provide on some test on content they may or may not have covered in class, but on the work of their hands and minds throughout the school year.

Create a multitude of ways to measure achievement. For instance, the TAF Academy School in the Federal Way School District uses project-based learning as a core method of curriculum delivery. Students are graded on how they meet the standards in collaboration, time management, subject knowledge and integration, resource acquisition and usage, presentations, writing, information synthesis and building the final product.

Projects, which tie together history and current issues, are presented to a public audience four times a year. That’s one example of the kind of authentic education our students need to get them ready for college, career and citizenship.

There is a role for standardized tests to test compulsory skills, but not in the way they’re being used now. They are given too much weight in a child’s future.

Let’s focus on how we can work together to create school environments that really prepare our students to position themselves to create the world that they themselves envision; personally, communally, nationally and globally.

Trish Millines Dziko is founder and CEO of Seattle’s TAF, which prepares students of color for college and life success with a science, technology, engineering and math education.


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