Test scores to count toward students’ grades

Parents, be concerned. Be very concerned.

Your children are to be tested using standardized tests that are going to count in their final grades.

A letter was distributed to students last month from Baldwin High School Principal Catherine Kilborn announcing to parents that “during the 2013-14 school year, all students who are enrolled in Algebra I, Algebra II, Biology I, Expository Writing or U.S. History course will take the appropriate End-of Course Exam(s). The purpose of each End-of-Course Exam is to provide you, your child and your child’s teacher(s) with information about the extent to which your child has met the current standards required for the course(s) taken during the 2013-14 school year. Fifteen percent of your child’s final grade will be based on the results of the EOC exam.”

This comes as a shock to most of us – parents, students and teachers. That is because although we have endured Hawaii State Assessments despite our reservations about the meaningfulness of the tests, we were mollified knowing that the tests would not affect grade-point averages.

Apparently, no more.

“The news you deliver is disturbing,” said Jesse Hagopian on Friday. Hagopian is a nationally recognized Seattle teacher who led a boycott against standardized testing. He was keynote speaker last month at Hawaii State Teachers Association’s Institute Day at Maui High School. Hagopian has been traveling the nation to draw attention to the growing movement against standardized testing that is including teachers, students and parents. He also is crusading against teacher evaluations tied to standardized test results.

His rationale for opposing the national trend in mandatory standardized testing is multifaceted but most of it boils downs to fairness.

Standardized tests are not fair – not to teachers, students nor parents. They are not fair to schools struggling to meet the costs of basic educational needs. Further, they are not fair to taxpayers because, of course, school districts have to spend a great deal of taxpayer money on this testing. If, in fact, the results are largely meaningless, the money is wasted.

A large body of statistical evidence exists that disputes the validity of standardized test results, particularly if the results are to be interpreted as fair and accurate representations of student progress. But aside from the research and citations, the fallacy of using standardized testing for measurement of student progress and teacher effectiveness is simply a matter of common sense.

Most teachers who have presided over HSA testing for the past several years can testify that the testing is haphazard and fraught with irregularities, including deficient computer networks, language problems, questionable questions and pressure on students to finish quickly so that another group of students can be herded in to take tests.

Worse, students are asked to answer questions on content that has not been taught. Repeat – has not been taught. Yet their answers are part of their scores.

Hawaii schools are transitioning to Common Core Standards this year. In general, teachers have not been familiarized enough with the new standards to incorporate them fully in their curriculum, yet students are being tested on them.

What is most incredible is that teachers are not supposed to teach to the tests. They cannot. They don’t make the tests.

Now the scores some call arbitrary are to be used for 15 percent of grades in core subjects. Concerned yet?

Asked if this is happening where he teaches, Hagopian replied, “No, these tests are not used in the grades in Seattle and I have never heard of this happening anywhere.

“You have to do everything you can to fight that,” he urged.

Those with concerns can let their voices be heard. A community meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Baldwin’s multipurpose building.

* Alan Isbell is a 4th-grade teacher at Wailuku Elementary School and the school’s head faculty representative for the Hawaii State Teachers Association.