« Previous  
 Next »

To test or not to test

05/12/03 12:00AM By Joe Deffner
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) Commentator Joe Deffner reflects on Hamlet, Act 60 and standardized testing.

(Deffner) My high school isn't Lake Wobegon's, but according to last year's test results, most of our children are above the state average. The test, in this case, is the New Standards Reference Exam, or as I think of it, the Act 60 test.

It was test week recently and my sophomores were as thrilled as I was. But they're good kids and even though they don't see any real point in the test - they don't get a grade for it and it doesn't go on their permanent record - they play along mainly because I ask them to. I explain that testing was part of the Act 60 legislation. Then I do my best to explain Act 60 - a means to provide equal funding of education for all - and they get it. If there's one thing these kids have, it's a sense of justice.

Unfortunately, the test doesn't measure that - nor does it measure the other talents these kids have: singing, writing poetry, or framing a house. The test measures a student's performance with one instrument on one day, providing the smallest glimpse of what a child is doing in the classroom. Still, we do well enough as a school that there has never been a danger of our becoming - in the state's terms - a school in need of technical assistance.

The other unfortunate aspect of this test is what it does to a school. For one week, classes don't meet, homework is curtailed, and teachers are heard to say: "Make sure that the oval is completely filled, but do not make stray marks in your booklet." And in Sophomore English this year, Lord Hamlet was put on the shelf until we got back to the normal business of school, leaving us with a two week unit on the Bard instead of three.

Now, I fully support the intent of Act 60. Vermont kids - and kids everywhere else for that matter - should have equal resources. And teachers should be held accountable. But a standardized test doesn't help either goal. There will always be communities where student achievement on these kinds of tests is, to quote Garrison Keillor, above average. There will also be communities where poverty and other factors affect achievement so that it will be, on average, below average.

Act 60 can only equalize school funding. There are dozens of other factors affecting test scores, over which a school has no control. So, while I agree that the state should provide equal funding, I think it should also recognize that not every community will get the same results. And if the education provided by the local school isn't up to snuff, the local people will and should demand better.

So while most Vermonters are hoping for additional Act 60 property tax relief in these final days of the legislative session, I'm looking for some test relief. To test or not to test, there is no question, at least not in my mind.

This is Joe Deffner in Union Village.

Joe Deffner is a teacher at Thetford Academy.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter