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A couple of questions about all these tests

High school exit-exam results for California were released Friday.


If it seems to you as though school test results, for the exit

exam and several others, come down the pike every month or two,


you’re not wrong. Between the multiple opportunities (starting in

10th grade) students have to take the exit exam, annual CAT/6 tests,

API testing, the California Standards Test and the CELDT (which tests

the proficiency of English-language learners) -- not to mention


optional tests like the pre-SAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exam -- school

districts like Burbank’s are constantly prepping for an upcoming test

or analyzing the results of the last one they gave.

The numbers attached to those results usually yield some useful

information, and most assuredly will provoke more rhetoric about the

state of the state’s education system -- “Students are brilliant!

Students are ignorant! They’re both! They’re neither! Blah blah



But in all that talk, a couple of simple questions need to be

asked: How much is all of this testing really helping? And don’t all

the educational “snapshots” these tests supposedly take kind of get

lost in the shuffle, from a public-information standpoint?

To the first question, the answer appears to be mixed. School

officials say the results of many of the tests, especially the

California Exit Exam, can have a powerful effect on what gets taught.

The tests are most useful when they pinpoint areas where students are


consistently coming up short, allowing administrators and teachers to

adjust curriculum and the amount of time and effort that goes into

the various academic disciplines.

At the same time, there’s no question the tests are time-consuming

and, in many cases, redundant. Ask just about any K-12 school

district administrator in California, and they’ll tell you they could

be learning the same amount of useful information with a lot less


From a public-information standpoint -- answering the second

question, now -- the glut of testing has had the unfortunate effect

of inuring most people to the usefulness of the results, and to the

tests in the first place. For starters, most non-educators don’t know

the difference between a CAT 6 and a CAT scan, much less how the

test’s results can best be used. Add to that the fact that every

month yields a new press release, a new set of numbers and a new

opinion about test results, and we have a populace confused about

which tests mean what, when they’re coming up, and what they’re doing

to improve education.

It’s ironic, really, when one considers that it was public

pressure to quantify educational achievement that sparked much of the

testing boom. The public wanted numbers telling them how their kids

were doing, but now that we’ve got so many sets of numbers coming out

so many times each year, that same public is at best confused, and at

worst disinterested.

There must be a happy medium, somewhere between testing overkill

and complete ignorance about whether students are learning what they

need to. It might involve offering fewer opportunities to take some

tests or, better yet, consolidating some of them so that the results

can be used to meet several different standards.

The present onslaught of tests is time- and effort-consuming,

expensive and redundant. Worse yet, so many tests and so many results

have made the very people who wanted quantified information about

education -- the public -- stop caring if they get it.