On Having One's Cake and Eating it Too, Part I

On Having One's Cake and Eating it Too, Part I

Someone smarter than me... I believe it was Mitch Hedberg or maybe Louis C.K., once quipped about how dumb the saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” is. The punchline goes “of course I want to eat  my cake--that’s the whole freaking point of cake! Why would you ever have cake if you weren’t planning to eat it.” This post is my attempt to have my cake and eat it too, or more precisely, it’s my attempt to thread the needle between the seemingly ever expanding standardized testing regime (which I sometimes resent) and the reactionary, often angry, anti-testing movement (which I find well-intentioned, yet often very problematic).

This is my view from the cheap seats of the “testing battle” (I hate using war metaphors in public education debates, but in this case I think it’s actually appropriate). It will probably end up unfolding over multiple posts, but any issue this important is worth deliberating, rather than sloganeering over.

I read a lot of education reporting and I often find myself nodding along with much of the anti-testing argument. But then suddenly, someone goes too far and I find myself uncomfortable with their rhetoric and the unintended consequences of their proposals. I believe there is too much standardized testing in our schools. Especially, in the spring time (a.k.a. testing season) testing is all consuming. It eats up valuable instructional time, is often redundant and produces little to no useful data for practitioners in the classroom. My wife, a sophomore English and junior AP Language teacher, has spent 30 class periods over the last 6 weeks proctoring SBA exams (both math and ELA) rather than teaching in her classroom. Many of her students have missed dozens more hours retaking/making up Algebra/Geometry & Biology EOCs [(End of Course Exams) more on the Biology EOC in a later post]. I find the case of her juniors in AP Language to be especially egregious: the vast majority of them passed the HSPE (the ELA graduation requirement) as sophomores. However, they were required to stop their preparation for their upcoming AP Language exam (a test for college credit), to take a pilot of 11th grade SBA exam. That is simply silly.

However, even given all of the proceeding, I support the annual testing of students using standardized tests to provide “apples to apples” data within schools and across systems about how students, especially, students of color and students in poverty are (or in far too many cases, are not) progressing.