Friday, Nov. 14, 2008 | Teacher Michele Janette felt like the tests would never end. Her 3rd graders at Benchley-Weinberger Elementary had taken seven tests by early November, one after the next, none of which counted towards their grades. They were supposed to help Janette tailor her teaching, but Janette felt they were crippling her.
To plead her case to San Diego Unified leaders, she lugged a foot-long bin of papers and two binders to a school board meeting. All the tests for the entire year used to fit into those two binders, she said, but this year they overflowed from the binders into the bin in just seven weeks.
“They are hitting us so quickly — I cannot ethically give these tests to my students unless I prepare them to take them and I go over them afterwards,” Janette told the board.
San Diego Unified has long required its own set of standardized tests for students from kindergarten to high school in addition to the California tests required by No Child Left Behind. They are meant to help teachers who complain that the California test scores are useless, returned long after the children have moved on to the next grade. Between the tests required by California and those added by San Diego Unified, some students take 16 standardized tests in a single year, in addition to exams created by their teachers. There are tests to gauge how well a child can read; tests to measure writing skills; tests to check whether students understood a lesson after it ends.
Thanks to a new computerized system, the San Diego Unified tests can be graded more quickly, giving prompter and clearer feedback to teachers and principals. Unlike ordinary exams given by teachers, such tests do not factor into grades. Instead, they are meant to help detect specific weaknesses or strengths for each child over time, helping teachers to adjust their teaching. Advocates of testing say it is the sole objective measure of how children are performing and keeps all schools bound to the same standards, enriching the analysis of what works and what doesn’t in each classroom.
“One data point tells you almost nothing. Two data points ain’t much better,” said Tyler Cramer, acting chief executive officer of the Business Roundtable for Education Foundation. “Give me multiple data points and you can tell what’s happening.”