Obsessive Testing

My wife and I believe that too much influence has been given to high-stakes, corporate testing and this has resulted in the placement of undue pressure on students. Therefore, at the beginning of the school year, we exercised our parental rights under California law and signed the opt-out forms so that our children would not have to take these tests. Apparently, this was not enough, as we later learned that our daughter’s high school had shut down their academic program for over half of a day in order to administer the PSAT to all students in the ninth through eleventh grades.

I remember taking the PSAT when I was in school and expected my children would take it in the same way. The test was given when I was in the eleventh grade and was administered on a Saturday morning so that no instructional time was lost. Since the student was responsible for paying for the test, it was administered on an opt-in basis. The results were supposed to give you an idea of how you would perform on the SAT and were also used for various national and state scholarships. Performance must not have been emphasized too much because, unlike the SAT, I do not remember how I scored.

The PSAT is a product of the College Board, which in fiscal year 2010-2011 had $720.65 million in revenues. On their website they push for students to take their $14 test multiple times in part by claiming that “research shows that students...who take the PSA/NMSQT in 10th and 11th grades score, on average, 189 points higher on the SAT than students who do not.” It has been said that one can “prove anything by statistics - except the truth.” In the statistics classes I have taken we were always warned to be wary of the self-selecting sample. Students who take the PSAT multiple times are probably the most likely to be college bound and this alone could account for the higher SAT score. Additionally, unless researchers also found that these students actively used their results to improve their study habits, these findings show a potential flaw in the SAT. If simply taking another test can improve the results of the SAT, then it is measuring test taking ability not college readiness.

When my wife asked Granada Hills Charter High School why they administered this test despite the fact that we had an opt-out form on file she was told that this form only covered statewide evaluations and they considered the PSAT to be a school based evaluation. While this excuse may allow them to skirt the letter of the law, it certainly does conform to the spirit. A school that was truly interested in parental involvement would have seen that we had an opt-out form on file and asked how we felt about them automatically shortening instruction time so that they could administer the PSAT.

The school’s action also calls into question their accountability to the taxpayers. Charter schools are given public funds so that they can experiment with innovative new programs. At Granada this used to include mandatory Saturday school for students who had fallen behind in math. Unfortunately, this program was eliminated during the time when education funds were cut by the state. However, they did manage to maintain the budget to pay for the $14 test for every student on a yearly basis. What is innovative about this?

In my career I have never had a boss ask me to sit down and take a standardized test. Instead, my knowledge and critical-thinking skills are tested daily through the decisions that I have to make. If we want our future workforce to be successful, we need to stop insisting that they become expert test takers and focus more on teaching them to use the knowledge that they acquire.