What’s the purpose of testing?

Superintendent of Public Instruction for Indiana, Glenda Ritz

Superintendent of Public Instruction for Indiana, Glenda Ritz

Logan Flake, Reporter

Sophomore Sam Rust has been placed in an awkward situation.

A situation that will ultimately lead to more testing and more time taken out of classes.

The recent implementation of the ISTEP+ test into SHS has left Rust and the rest of this year’s sophomores to take both the ISTEP+ and the ECA tests. Though it is usually one of the other depending on the school district, this year is a transitional year with the ISTEP+ being a brand new test for SHS and the ECA being on its last legs and out the door but still technically in place until after the end of the school year.

Rust isn’t a fan of these tests.

“The testing is awful,” Rust said. “It’s unnecessary and boring.”

Principal Barbara Brouwer shares an opinion similar to Rust’s.

“The sophomores this year are going to be tested both on the ECA and the ISTEP+, and it is what it is. It’s awful, absolutely awful,” Brouwer said.

However, this isn’t the extent of the standardized testing that Rust and his peers will see over their high school careers. For example, sophomores had to take the PSAT tests earlier this school year. This was done in preparation for the SAT tests, which sophomores are encouraged to take both their Junior and Senior years. AP tests will also eventually grace the desks of honors students such as Rust.

The hours a student like Rust spends testing add up. With the ECA taking around five hours total and the ISTEP+ taking around taking about nine hours and 40 minutes, these tests alone accumulate to an estimated 14 hours and 40 minutes. This figure goes without adding in the time for the various AP tests that students face (which take around three to five hours a test.)

This doesn’t even take into consideration the WIIDA tests for EL students  (which takes about 3 and a half hours) and things like the Acuity and SRI tests that regular students take at given intervals throughout the year.

Under these circumstances, one might wonder what the point of standardized testing is and whether or not they are effective in doing what they set out to achieve.

Brouwer feels these tests serve the purpose of making the process of comparing the comprehension of students easier on a large scale.  

“In my opinion, the purpose is to have a test that’s universal across the state so that students at Southport High School can be compared to students in other high schools…,” Brouwer said.

With Brouwer’s mindset, there are multiple standardized tests so that the comprehension of material can be measured and compared for students across the whole state. In this way, a baseline can be established because each student is being tested on the exact same things.

Glenda Ritz, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Indiana, shares an opinion that’s similar to Brouwers. However, she feels as if these tests set out to, but fail, to achieve the goals that she thinks they should be able to meet.

“The purpose of standardized testing, in my view, should be to evaluate your academic progress and inform your teacher’s instruction,” Ritz wrote  in an email to The Journal. “Tests like the ISTEP+… do not inform classroom instruction, which is why I think we should move past these current high-stakes, pass/fail assessments.”

SHS Guidance Counselor Briana Underwood, who has a hand in distributing these tests to students, also has issues with the current testing system.

Underwood’s problems with standardized tests are how they strip students away from a regular classroom environment.

“My concern is a lot of times, I feel that students are being taught more to the test as opposed to being taught to think outside of the box,” Underwood said. “I think teacher’s hands are really tied when it comes to standardized testing. When you think of all the tests that we offer in second semester, that’s just so much time out of the classroom that students should be learning other things as opposed to taking a test.”

Brouwer too is against the concept of teaching “to the test,” but she considers that to be something entirely different than simply sneaking test prep into lessons in some fashion so that students don’t show up to the test without having any of the information needed to be successful.

“There’s a difference between teaching to the test and preparing for the test, and I don’t want our teachers to ever…teach to the test,” Brouwer said. “But, I do think if we don’t prepare students for the test…we would be setting (them) up for failure.”

One thing that people like Ritz feel strongly about, however, is that in its current state, the standardized testing platform could certainly be improved. Ritz says that Indiana is in striking position to make beneficial changes to the testing process as of right now. Whether those changes will actually be made or not is yet to be seen.

“Due to changes in federal regulations, Indiana has the opportunity to make changes which would make required student assessments more useful to students and educators,” Ritz wrote in an email to the Journal. “I support measuring student progress towards college-and-career ready benchmarks to ensure that every student is ready for life after high school. However, the current system must be changed to reflect the needs of educators and students in the classroom.”