If the New England Patriots had chosen a quarterback based only on foot speed, they would have missed out on three Super Bowl victories.
Many of my readers know I have certain beliefs regarding standardized tests: from what I have read and experienced they do not tell me nearly as much about my student's knowledge level than what I can glean from just talking to them. Moreover, they have many negative effects as evinced by the recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece where a mother describes opting out of the Pennsylvania state test (PSSA). Negative outcomes abound for students in the form of high anxiety, a hatred of schooling, and a belief that education is the same thing as filling in bubble sheets.
This past Tuesday I attended a workshop discussing the new wave of high school tests for Pennsylvania called the Keystones. Modeled after the New York Regents, they will be required for graduation beginning with next year's 9th grade classes. At this workshop we discussed how the questions are significantly more difficult than ever before because they are at a higher level on Webb's Depth of Knowledge meaning they require deeper thought and connection in order to answer. The problem here is that the PSSA test beforehand has narrowed the curriculum so much that students are mostly exposed to multiple choice questions demanding simple recall in isolated situations - they have no idea how to apply concepts in new contexts.
Granted, this seems like a good goal: change the test to make it force deeper critical thought. But, it is still focusing on a few subject areas and the students are not used to these questions yet. And the new policies have "eliminated the requirement for students to complete a culminating project in order to graduate." A project that allowed students to be creative and think at a deeper level (Level 4 according to Webb) has been curtailed and a lower-quality assessment has replaced it.
As a society we need to foment curiosity amongst our students and not reduce their learning to bubbles on a page.