Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Student revolts about Standardized Exam

Kathryn Coffey is passionate about public education, and she is especially passionate about teaching reading and writing. She also interested in Cognitive Coaching, education leadership and education policy.
Here blog can be found here.

Here is her story:
In the spring of 2005, when my youngest son A.J. took our state’s high-stakes standardized test, the MEAP, (now the MME) he had an ax to grind. Unfortunately, no one really knew how angry he was until after he took the exam. I received a call from the principal requesting a meeting. It seems that my son had chosen to draw a very large and detailed fist with an extended middle finger where his science graph should have been. And, he chose to bubble in his multiple-choice answer sheet with “AC/DC” and “ABBA”, as well. The principal was quite distressed since my son’s unconventional test responses would most definitely effect the school’s test results and would reflect poorly on the district. So, why would he do this? It turned out that A.J. was upset about one of his teacher’s policies that he had tried unsuccessfully to address with the teacher and administration. Feeling he had not been heard, he took his revenge. I had assumed A.J.’s stunt was an isolated incident—until yesterday.

Fast-forward to March 9, 2011. A colleague who supervises pre-service teachers for a nearby university shared a disturbing conversation he overheard while he was visiting a high school classroom that morning.

At the beginning of the class, he was sitting near a group of four young ladies. As Juniors, they had just taken the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and ACT last week. One of the other adults in the room asked these girls how the testing had gone. One said, “they’re so stupid, I paid attention for the first couple of pages, then I just started bubbling in randomly.” A second girl said, “Yeah, I couldn’t take it seriously, I don’t want (our school) to do well.” One of the other girls responded, “Yeah, if this was for us and they were still giving out the scholarships, I would have taken it seriously.”

What’s particularly interesting to me is that while A.J. decided to take his frustration out on the science exam, it was a foreign language teacher’s policy he was protesting. In addition, the comment above “I don’t want (our school) to do well,” didn’t target a particular teacher or subject area, but apparently the school in general.  

The standardized test movement is based on the assumption that students are actually going to take the test seriously, that the test will measure achievement and will measure teacher effectiveness. Neither A.J.’s performance on the science MEAP, nor that of the girls mentioned above meets those assumptions. This has me wondering, and it raises questions that I believe need to be addressed.

·      Is there any research about whether or not students actually take high-stakes standardized tests seriously?

·      How many teens out there have an ax to grind with the adults in their lives, particularly with their teachers and their schools?

·      How many angry teens would it take for testing results to be corrupted for a given school district?

·      How often does this happen?

·      Do students understand their teachers and school are being held accountable for how well they do on these exams?

Perhaps some understand it only too well. It’s entirely within a teen’s nature to subvert the adults and authorities in their lives. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to put teacher’s careers and the viability of a school district in their hands?


  1. A college student told me a similar story today. Before taking her state test, the adult administering the test told the class that no money would be available for scholarships from the test so they might as well bubble in answers at random. This is a good student but she followed the adult's advice and blew off the test. Considering this was five or so years ago, I wonder if the school was trying to start with a small number of passing scores so AYP would be easier to maintain.

  2. Sorry to come back to this post, but I have to tell my own story. This year, on our standardized tests, I became...frustrated with some questions on the Science test. They were over specific details of content knowledge instead of various ways that knowledge could be applied. So when I got to a "Show your work below and write your answer on the line" box, I wrote a little note explaining exactly why the questions were doing "nothing to test my scientific skills and are instead testing direct content knowledge." I guess it's not quite as drastic as the other examples, but still, I enjoyed it!

    I guess it's not quite as drastic as the other examples, but still, I enjoyed it!