The End of Instruction Test Disaster

How do you feel about your kids taking End of Instruction (EOI) tests to get a high school diploma? Most of you who are reading this probably don’t need to worry. Your kids will do just fine. Unless they have a disability. Or test anxiety. Or maybe don’t feel well on the day of the test. Or maybe they just don’t do well on standardized tests. Then you get into the emotional issues that plague high school students.

Supporters of the EOI tests say that these high stakes tests make a high school diploma “more meaningful.” I’m not sure how a taking tests in four subject areas one time makes a diploma mean something more than actually going to class, doing the work and making passing grades. What it says is that the Legislature doesn’t trust educators to do their job. Do you know that Finland, the country with the most successful public schools, allows their teachers, most of whom belong to a union, to create the tests and evaluations for their students? They cut out standardized tests when they looked at ways to improve their schools. It worked.

I’m not against accountability. But I know with human beings and standardized tests accountability can be a moving target. In Florida, the state that many proponents of EOI tests point to as a model, test scores fluctuated dramatically from one year to the next. A New York Times article looked at one school where the teachers spent several days of instructional time preparing students for what they would see on the tests. The preparation worked and last year the school scored “third in math, fourth in reading and sixth in writing.”

However, this year, the scores plummeted. Only about 30 percent of the students were proficient. Why? Because the scoring system changed. So, after much handwringing, what did they do? Florida changed the cut-off again, so that the number of schools receiving an “A” grade increased. By merely lowering the cut-off score, most of the students suddenly became “proficient.” One of the Orange Country School Board members in Orlando took the reading competency test (a 63-year-old man with two master’s degrees) and failed it. Is this meaningful accountability?

Florida is now admitting that there are problems with these high stakes tests — tests that are used to determine if students graduate, if the schools receives an A-F rating, if teachers or principals get bonuses or get fired. Is this the best we can do in Oklahoma? Why would we follow a flawed and failed system of high stakes testing? According to the article, Broward County, “the sixth biggest school district in the nation, became one of 10 in Florida to pass the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing, calling for a reduced role of standardized tests in public education.  In other words, Florida is backing off of its reliance on standardized testing as a way to make major decisions in education.

And the EOI tests in Oklahoma are meaningless anyway. Students can take them more than once. They can do projects instead of the tests. They can apply for a waiver. If it’s so important that students pass these single tests, then why do we have so many ways that they can get out of them. No one is so rigid that they think all human beings have equal cognitive ability. Or that all students learn the same way. Teachers recognize that some students are working full-time and trying to attend high school. I had a student once who fell asleep every day at his desk, not out of boredom, but because he had to work every night until midnight to help support his single mom. Did I figure out a different way to work wtih this kid? Yes.I had a student who was missing a lot of class and I talked to her about it. I found out that her dad was dying of cancer. Did I give her more time to write her essays? Yes. I had a student whose parents were going through a difficult divorce and she just didn’t care about school, even though she was very intelligent. Did I talk to her about keeping up? Yes.  I had a student who was doing the best she could do just to write a subject/verb/direct object sentence and to spell all thet words correctly. Was that girl going to a competitive college. No, but she needed a high school diploma to go to technical school. By not allowing students to get a diploma who have completed and passed all the coursework for high school, we are giving them no chance at life before they even begin.

Having EOI tests may make it appear that Oklahoma has rigorous standards, but it’s a sham, like many education “reforms” created by people who know nothing about education, and most people can see through it.


Categories: Editor’s Blog