Standards are important — especially in education

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Standards are important — especially in education
Editorial - Exponent Telegram

As primary and secondary schools across the region head into the final month of classes, significant discussion and debate surround the practice of standardized testing.
For part of the next few weeks, students will take Smarter Balance tests, which help to gauge how each individual student and the school system are performing.

In parts of the country, including West Virginia, there has been an effort for students to opt-out of the testing, with a variety of reasons given.

Some believe the tests are part of what they claim to be a grand national conspiracy to federalize the education system through Common Core curriculum.

Others believe the tests count too much toward assessing the students’ and schools’ performance, complaining that standardized tests aren’t the best metric to use to determine academic success.

As The Associated Press reported, there are pockets of resistance led by teachers unions, which fear the tests will be relied on too much in evaluating teaching performance.

There are complaints that there is just too much testing, that teachers are forced to teach to the test and that students face too much anxiety because of it.

And there also is the belief that because the tests don’t directly affect students’ grades, some students don’t really try to do well, which ultimately makes their teachers and schools look bad.

In talking with veteran administrators, one thing is clear: Standardized testing has been around for a while. By most accounts, the testing, in some form, has been around for 50-plus years.

Who can’t remember sharpening their No. 2 pencils in preparation for filling out the bubble answer sheets in some form or another?

Nowadays, students take the tests on computers. And as long as schools have enough computers and the technology doesn’t fail, it has to be better than those fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets.

So if standardized testing has been around so long, and technology is improving the way the tests are given, why the controversy?

Much of it stems from the No Child Left Behind law, an effort to set national standards in helping children prepare for a global economy and to hold the educational system accountable.

The thought is that little Johnny and his parents in Salem or Clarksburg or Bridgeport or Shinnston should be able to know how he’s doing when compared with students in other parts of the country and world.

And if you think about it, what’s the harm?

If Johnny’s test scores are trailing others, perhaps it will motivate him to study harder. Perhaps the results will help his teachers and school cultivate programs designed to address shortcomings.

Those would be good things, right?

But resistance seems to build when there’s fear that a school, teacher or student could somehow feel inferior or threatened by the process.

In some states, there are efforts to have the testing count towards a teacher’s evaluation.

Likewise, schools will be rated. And in West Virginia, if current policy stands, letter grades will be assigned to schools — based in part on test scores — beginning next year.

Stress and conflict have been exacerbated by the political debate that has unfolded over Common Core and the many misconceptions that exist.

What seems lost in all this is what should matter most to the students.

Make no mistake, standards are needed in education. As Harrison Superintendent Dr. Mark Manchin likes to point out, there are standards in most of all we do — be it work-related standards, moral standards or ethical standards.

Standards give us something to use as a guide. They are targets to attain and, yes, ways to assess ability and progress.

In as much as education is the key to our children’s future, standards should be welcomed. And efforts to assess our children’s educational progress should be encouraged.

But they should be treated like any other measuring standard used in the educational system.

The educational world shouldn’t stop revolving for standardized testing. Other than basic test preparation, teachers shouldn’t be forced or allowed to spend quality class time teaching to the test.

Standardized tests should serve as guidelines to help formulate winning educational strategies. They should be used to energize students and staff, not punish them.

And parents and the community should welcome them as what they should be: Ways to make our children’s education better.

That’s all been lost in the fear that the testing will be used to punish lower-performing schools and students.

The thought that there shouldn’t be testing or standards is foolish. But the way students and schools are assessed deserves review.