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October 21, 2015

Fight over high-stakes testing in schools continues

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Public debate over the merits of standardized testing is nothing new, but the number of students choosing to opt out of the tests grew over the past year.

On one side of the debate over standardized testing sits a well-funded school reform movement that includes billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates, while on the other side sit many teachers, parents and, in some cases, students.

Supporters of standardized testing say the practice measures student progress and teacher performance through frequent testing and evaluations in order to improve education standards. But many opponents say too much testing hinders education more than it helps and learning needs to take place at a pace that best fits the student, rather than expecting all students of a certain grade to be at the same level.

One of those opponents is Jesse Hagopian, a high school teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, who has led the charge against the high number of tests. “It’s become a multibillion-dollar industry to sell exams to children in order to rank and sort them,” Hagopian said.

In September, Seattle schoolteachers walked off their jobs for the first time in 30 years in protest against one the state’s major tests mandated by Seattle Public Schools.

Many conservatives, including most Republican presidential candidates, criticize the Common Core standards as government overreach, while liberals like Hagopian say they promote inequality.

Hagopian points to studies that say students may take upwards of 113 tests during their kindergarten through high school career. He openly discusses a student’s right to opt out of state exams, which are not required to graduate.

Last year, fewer than 60 of the 3,000 tenth graders in Washington opted out of the state’s test. This year, the number increased to 500 students.


 Vocab

Common Core — a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts for grades K through 12

standardized testing — a form of testing requiring all test takers to answer the same questions in the same way and scored in a consistent manner making it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups

boycott — to combine in abstaining from commercial or social relations with a group or business  as a means of protest

Warm up questions
  1. What is standardized testing?
  2. Does your school take state tests?
  3. Are you required to take standardized tests?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why do some people feel that standardized testing is harmful for students?
  2. Do you think testing serves a purpose in education? Why or why not?
  3. Is having a national set of academic standards necessary to ensure that students across the nation are achieving the same level of competence in subjects like math and reading, or should states be able to set their own standards? Explain.
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