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Too many tests don’t help kids

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A recent news story reported that the State Office of Education had consulted with the Utah High School Activities Association to avoid scheduling conflicts between statewide testing and athletic events. Unfortunately, the state office has not given the same consideration to the disruption the proliferating tests have caused academic programs.

It seems our legislators and State Office of Education are caught in a time warp. As they implement their new but archaic educational testing plan, they transport the educational community back to the 1920s — when similarly simplistic thinking led to the assumption that schools could be operated like factories. The social-efficiency model of the 1920s viewed students as materials moving along an educational conveyer belt where they were taught certain pre-arranged subjects in preparation for a final examination.

Input — output — such thinking denies the breadth and depth of the intellect; it quenches the creative and critical work that must take place in the classroom if young people are to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century.

The Utah Performance Assessment System for Students, planned for full implementation by 2004, includes the ongoing use of the antiquated Stanford Achievement Test (only Realtors use these scores), the five-hour Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, and the dreadfully-constructed CRT's, subject area tests given to assess whether teachers are teaching the State Core Curriculum. Why give these tests?? They provide no information to teachers and students.

Try to imagine my 90-degree classroom in late May where 11th graders, who have already taken the SAT, PSAT, ASVAB, ACT and multiple AP tests, face three days of CRT's in English and additional CRT testing in other subject areas. Having worked all year to develop critical-thinking skills, these students soon recognize a pseudo-test which in no way measures their abilities. Some begin filling in the bubble sheets randomly without reading the test questions. The three days of testing disrupt our discussion of a novel and leave everyone frustrated and resentful at the waste of time.

I promised my students at Olympus High that I would write this letter. I urge teachers, students, counselors, and parents across the state to speak out against the meaningless testing that increasingly consumes precious educational dollars and valuable teaching time. I suggest we banish the SAT's, outlaw the CRT's and demand that the Legislature and state office awake from their long sleep.

The state office should provide leadership in implementing authentic assessments — portfolios, student- performance observations and other evaluation tools that more accurately mirror student learning. If we desire a multiple-choice assessment of basic skills, a national test of proven reliability like the l0th grade PLAN, precursor to the ACT, will at least provide useful information.

Margo Thompson, a self-described student advocate, is the retiring chairwoman of the Olympus High School English Department.