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Poll: Students split on role of testing

Many said they believe standardized testing gives certain groups of students unequal treatment

About four-fifths of undergraduates support standardized test scores playing either a small or moderate role in public high school graduation requirements, according to a Herald poll conducted Sept. 30 – Oct. 1. About 12 percent of respondents said standardized test scores should play no role in public high school graduation requirements.

The responses come on the heels of significant state debate surrounding a recently implemented state-wide requirement that students score at least “partially proficient” on the New England Common Assessment Program test or demonstrate substantial improvement between test cycles to receive a high school diploma.

Of the 80 percent of respondents who supported a small or moderate role in public high school graduation requirements, about half were in favor of a moderate role and half were in favor of a small role.

Natalie Tarr ’14, who volunteers for Algebra in Motion, an after school tutoring program at Hope High School, said she strongly opposes high-stakes standardized testing.

At Hope High School, only 19 percent of students passed the math portion of the NECAP, and approximately 80 percent of the school’s senior class retook the test in October for a second chance at graduating on time, The Herald previously reported.

“I would remind people of the original intent of the testing, which is to raise the quality of education,” Tarr said, pointing to teacher training programs and workshops as examples of other ways to accomplish this goal.

Standardized testing caters to more privileged students and marginalizes others, Tarr said. “The tests are created for a white, middle or upper class audience,” she said. “For others, it’s just inherently not fair.”

“Think of how demoralizing it would be to make it all the way to the end of high school and then to not meet the standardized test requirement,” said Evan Lunt ’16.

“It’s not conducive to community,” said Raven Carson ’16, because students who do not test as well as their peers feel “ostracized.”

The most common answer among white respondents was “a small role” — accounting for 42 percent of respondents — while the most common answer among non-white respondents was “a moderate role,” which accounted for 46 percent of answers.

Answers varied across academic concentrations — a higher percentage of arts and humanities concentrators said scores should play a small role or no role in graduation requirements than students concentrating in other fields did.

Ben Williams ’16, a neuroscience concentrator, said standardized testing may be appropriate for math and grammar, but schools place too much emphasis on testing in other subjects, even in the sciences. “There need to be other ways to evaluate performance,” he added.

Many said evaluating performance differently is particularly important for students with learning differences.

“Standardized testing measures a certain kind of brain,” said Carly Margolis ’16. “There are all kinds of intelligence.”

Williams, who tutors through the Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment program, said preparing his tutee — a senior at Hope High School who came to the United States from Nepal two years ago— for the NECAP has been “somewhat difficult and hectic.”

“His English is not at the optimal level, so preparing him for these tests is not the best use of my time or his time, since I’d rather be teaching him in other ways,” Williams said. “The sense I got from him was this wasn’t just challenging for kids from outside the country that are learning English as a second language. It’s a challenge for the kids who have grown up here too,” he added.

But many said eliminating standardized testing would be impractical.

“You have to standardize something,” Carson said. But the NECAP was not designed as an evaluative tool and would be more appropriately used for data collection, he added.

“It’s certainly easier administratively if you’re just handing out the same thing to everyone and expecting a certain level of performance. That’s why it’s such an attractive policy,” Williams said.

Though testing may always be a factor in measuring success, in the United States, extracurricular involvement and grade point average are more comprehensive measures, said Alex He ’17.

“It’s unfair to measure everyone with the same test if they have different goals,” he said.

Andy Chan ’14.5 said the policy will “make a difference on the margin,” as the test will likely catch the students who would graduate high school but not necessarily go on to college, he said. Administrators might be able to positively spin standardized test scores by ending their punitive uses and allowing students who might otherwise be in danger of not graduating to demonstrate what they do know through the test, Chan added.

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