It's no mystery why teachers unions and school boards oppose standardized achievement tests and exit exams. When they're falling short, they're not eager to announce it.
It's no mystery why students don't like tests. Some fail. Some struggle. Others aren't challenged. There's no instant gratification. Some students have such a strong sense of entitlement that they've come to believe they're supposed to enjoy almost everything they do in school.
The mystery is why so many parents -- especially affluent parents -- would oppose testing. You'd think parents would be embarrassed to voice this opinion in public, because it's so anti-education -- except they are so uninformed as to not even understand what they're against.
So let me explain.
1. Tests like the STAR test diagnose problems in individual students' learning. Middle-class parents may think their kids are getting a great education, but STAR can red-flag a learning disability or signal that Buffy failed to learn a math skill. Discover the problem early, and Buffy doesn't fall further behind.
2. Standardized tests highlight what is working. When the Open Court reading program raised reading scores in Sacramento, and demonstrated weaker performance in the five schools that used a different reading series, it showed Sacramento what worked. Superintendents of other districts also could see tangible results.
3. Low test results shame schools to improve. Low-performing schools have been able to benefit greatly. Oakland Unified, for example, adopted Open Court to boost its dismal reading scores, and student literacy improved.
4. The California exit exam has forced students and schools alike to make sure that those who weren't learning much in high school at least graduate with a minimal level of reading and math skills.
University of Southern California geophysicist and education activist Martha Schwartz told me that while standardized tests generally have facilitated improvements in early education, the exit exam has brought improvement -- such as remedial reading programs for high school students -- for older kids who often have been the last to benefit from education reforms. "I don't think that anybody would be trying to do that if it weren't for the fear of the exit exam," Schwartz said -- and she had lobbied against the exit exam.
5. All students who go to a California state college or university benefit from the exit exam and standardized tests.
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