Letter: Standardized test not what doctor ordered

From: Superintendent John Quick, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.


Let’s suppose a medical doctor referred you for 14 hours of testing to be done over the course of a week or so. With the results in hand, you ask the doctor for a diagnosis. What ails me, if anything? What are my opportunities for improvement? What is the individual health plan I should be following to become the healthiest person I can be?

The doctor responds that the tests were not diagnostic but standardized tests used to compare you to others your age. While there is no diagnosis, these tests do tell us that compared to others in your state, at your age, you are a 60. You might have been higher last year, she says, but the tests are 30 percent harder than ones used previously, and the medical community has decided that you have to score a 61 to be considered a healthy person.

So you failed. You passed last year with an 80, and you wanted to keep improving. So you led a healthier lifestyle. You exercised, ate the right foods and feel better for it. The test still says you are a failure. The doctor does not have much in the way of advice for you other than to not take it personally.  

Not many people would accept this type of treatment from their doctor, but this is what Indiana’s teachers and students experience with annual standardized testing. The Indiana Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) is not a diagnostic test. It’s a norm-referenced test that, by design, sorts and labels students across a continuum. It’s a strategy that ensures someone will always fail. It provides little diagnostic value toward helping a teacher plan instructional strategies or advising students and families about individual educational plans.  

Just like medical doctors, educators need testing tools that are useful to each student’s school of one. Educators use formative data on a continuous basis in their classrooms every day. They use classwork and observations to help each student grow.

Teachers know their students well, and they know a student’s performance relative to his/her peers. Yet we use standardized summative data, collected once a year, as the accountability measuring stick. If our goal is to seek continual improvement, a prognosis based on a single standardized test result is not what the doctor ordered.