05 August 2010

Not another test, please

Last year, YorkCounts hosted a meeting about and sent a letter of support for the proposed Keystone Exams. Today, our intern Itzy Otterbein offers a different view. Itzy will be a senior in high school, and the opinions expressed here are hers, not YorkCounts.

Pennsylvania is initiating a new series of tests referred to as the Graduate Competency exams. The tests, also known as the Keystone Exams, will be used as exit exams to measure seniors’ competency and their ability to survive in the real world. As a soon-to-be senior in high school, I have to ask one question:

Do we really need one more test?

Think about it. During a student's high school career, the average student will take around 240 tests, assuming six classes with 10 tests per class times four years. That means that their knowledge and general know-how will be assessed 240 times. This does not include the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests (PSSAs), which are designed to test students’ comprehension of major subjects in third through eighth and 11th grade. Students who do not pass the PSSAs with proficient or above are remediated in order to move on to the next grade. Pennsylvania already has a system of assessment in place along with the basic testing in school. Student’s who can, on average, pass tests will pass their classes and in turn, receive the high school student’s Holy Grail… the diploma. So if the student’s abilities are tested throughout their schooling career, why should they be pressured with once and done, in or out, pass or fail exit exams? If the student has advanced to their senior year and passed all of their required classes, must their graduation rely on one huge, frightening series of test?

Imagine your entire high school career culminating with one large test on each main subject that will, in essence, determine the fate of your schooling. In the coming years, these standardized tests, known as Graduate Competency exams, appear likely to become a reality. In the year 2014, each student would be required to take 10 exit exams. The student's score on the exit exams would be put in the grade book as one third of the student's final grade.  Students who fail to pass the test in even one subject area would probably not graduate and would have to come back for an additional year of school. Had they applied to college and been accepted, they would also lose their place and have to reapply the next year. This may have an adverse effect and discourage students from attending college.

I, personally, have never been a great test taker. In my school grade books, you can often see a trend of high A's on homework, class work, and small quizzes, but often B’s and maybe C’s on large tests. This is true for many students. While test are obviously a necessity to assess a student’s understanding, they can also be misleading. It isn’t fair to let one final series of tests prevent an otherwise qualified student from graduating.

Jim Rhoades, a former state Sen. and principal who passed away in 2008, agreed. “A high school diploma is an accumulation of 12 years of tests, quizzes and homework,” Rhoades told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Twelve years of gym classes and research papers; 12 years of getting along with other students. We're going to tell our students, our teachers and our schools that those 12 years don't really matter, that the effort ... wasn't really worth it.”

There is a feeling of unease in Pennsylvania because many people believe that too many of my fellow classmate and others who have graduated before us are unprepared for college or jobs. If this is true, why have the students been advanced through the grades? Perhaps, instead of adding another unnecessary test, the government should ensure that students are receiving the proper education throughout their schooling and are not simply being pushed to the next grade if they are not ready. The PSSAs already assess students. Students who are in 12th grade have passed these assessments or been remediated until they could. There should be no reason that a 12th grader who completes his or her courses with passing grades should not be prepared for the real world.

Do we need to spend the money on these exit exams that will help to standardize America when students are already being tested for proficiency by other government tests throughout their schooling? Should the government test each student’s academic level when it has been tested over and over again for the past 12 years by their teachers and administrators? This brings me back to my very first question…

Do we really need one more test?

Join the conversation and tell me what you think.

- Itzy Otterbein

Itzy Otterbein will be a senior at Eastern York High School. She participated in Leadership York's Future Leaders of York program and is working on her Girl Scouts' Gold Award at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education. She is interning with YorkCounts this summer.


Anonymous said...

Tests don't end with high school and for many, they don't end with college. Most professions require periodic testing and even traditional "blue collar" jobs are requiring more technical knowledge resulting in additional testing. Tests are a fact of life. It is an assessment of knowledge and to date, it is the cheapest way to gain an understanding of someones ability to retain what they have learned. Tests can provide one other piece of information. They can tell how much a student retains and they can also show how well a teacher is teaching his/her students. While the Keystone exams may seem redundant, they will provide one more insight into our schools systems ability to teach and our students ability to learn.

Anonymous said...

On July 1, 2010, the PA State Board of Education voted to adopt the National Common Core Standards constructed through the work of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers. The BOE established the goal to have the CC implemented in 2013. There are differences in the Common Core and the Standards that now structure education in Pennsylvania. Assessments for the CC will have to look different than those being written for Key Stone Exams (which became obsolete with the vote on July 1). BUT, there will be "another test". This is a conversation that MUST be continued as families need to know of this drastic change in the education plan for the children of the Commonwealth.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Keystone exams are unnecessary. The flaws in the education system do not come from the standardized tests, but from the schooling up to that point. Students should not be passed through a grade if they are not ready or did not learn the material. Yes, tests are necessary, but just how many does it take to calculate a student's academic level? In addition, the keystone tests should not account for one-third of a student's grade. I understand the need for standardized tests, but school grades shouldn‘t come into the picture. Students who do not test well can use their GPA to prove that they perform well in class, even if their standardized test scores are mediocre to low. I like some aspects of the Keystone tests, such as the ability of a student to retake the test if they score below basic and also that the modules test course by course, but please take out the effects on GPA. It isn't fair to destroy a student's class rank because they weren't taught the materials while another student in the same school may have had a better teacher. Standardized tests should not affect grades.

Anonymous said...

What does it matter if you will be tested later in life. We aren't taliking about college; this is high school. Reciving a high school diploma means that you have sufficiently completed 12 years of high school. Every teacher has a test or a quiz at least every few weeks. After a whole semester of testing I think it is pretty obvious whether or not you understand the subject you are supposed to be learning. It is hard to understand why 10 new standarized tests would be any more helpful in telling us the information we already know. All core curriculum classes work like building blocks; you take one course and then you use what you learned there in the next highest level. This means we need to focus on every step of the learning process and not just the end result.

Itzy said...

Anonymous #2,
I would like to see where you got your information about the Key Stone Exams and the July 1 vote. I have scoured the internet and have not been able to find a deffinate vote. I did, however, find a link to the Common Core tests that you were referring to. I believe that they may be a different type of test, more like the PSSA's. They are taken in K-12 and will be used to asses students throughout their highschool career. They are not a graduations exam.

Anyone who would like to read about the Common Core Standards can click the following links...