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
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.