My Turn, Karen Bowyer: End of grade testing not a waste of time

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 4, 2018

As a retired educator, I read “The weight they carry,” by Salisbury Post writer Rebecca Rider (in Sunday’s Post) with great interest. I had an opportunity to meet Angelia Fleming, the featured teacher, several years ago when her students participated in the Daughters of the American Revolution History essay contest. Without question, Mrs. Fleming is an outstanding educator who goes the extra mile to provide for her students.

I was disappointed when the article faded from a discussion of providing a quality education to the verbal bashing of the state required testing program. The End of Grade tests are not the problem. The problem is many educators place too much significance on the testing process. When teachers and administrators become obsessed with the tests, their attitude rubs off on their students. It is understandable when students become nervous about their test results.

It is important for students and parents to know that the required EOGs in elementary school and in middle school have no effect on a student’s grade. It is also important for parents to know that North Carolina is one of the few states that develop the tests with considerable input from North Carolina teachers.

The N.C. tests are created for the Department of Public Instruction by Technical Outreach for Public Schools, which is under the auspices of N.C. State University.

Every test that is developed for N.C. students has been written in part by N.C. educators and reviewed by classroom teachers. Each test question has been through a rigorous multi-step process to insure fairness and quality before it is ever used to determine a student’s score. It takes years to develop a high-quality test, and North Carolina has spent the time and money to insure the quality of the tests that are given to our children.

I am always amazed when educators make negative comments about testing, particularly when those comments suggest that too much time is spent preparing for test. The tests by design measure a student’s understanding of the Standard Course of Study. The tests measure a student’s yearly growth on the instructional goals that were taught during the year. How on earth can that be a waste of time? If students are being taught the material, the tests will not be a problem.

Granted there are many important skills that are taught in the classroom that are never tested. No reasonable person would question the importance of teaching life skills. However, those untested skills should not hold more weight than the academic skills.

English Language Arts EOG tests measure a student’s ability to independently read and comprehend grade-appropriate texts. The questions are designed to measure a student’s ability to use higher order thinking skills. That ability is certainly important. Math EOG tests measure a student’s progress on the math skills that were taught during the year. Many of the math questions ask students to solve problems that deal with real life situations.

The test results show the success or failure of the academic instruction that was given during the year. Some children will not do well on the tests. That is to be expected. Not all children do well in the classroom.

The tests measure progress. A student’s classroom performance should be directly reflected in a student’s performance on the End of Grade tests. If it is not reflected, then it should be obvious that the student was not given proper instruction during the year. If students are not performing well on the tests, then they are not making academic progress. When test scores are low, educators need to take a very critical look at the quality of the instruction.

Several of Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody’s comments in the article would suggest that she is smoothing the way for another year of dismal Rowan-Salisbury School System test scores. Dr. Moody is correct when she says that RSS is more than just test scores. However, academics are important. It is unreasonable to accept test scores that are significantly below the state average, and RSS scores have been below the state average for the last three or four years. Blaming the tests is a poor excuse. Other school districts in North Carolina that have demographics like those in Rowan Salisbury are outperforming RSS.

IPads and computers, bells and whistles are great, but when a young person working at the grocery store can’t make change without a calculator, our educational system is in trouble.

When Bill Gates, as well as other technology icons, tell us that children’s tech time should be limited and well monitored, we need to pay attention. It may be considered “old school” to tout the merits of direct instruction, but it certainly does seem to work. Technology should be a part of instruction, but it should be one of the tools, not the only tool in the tool box.

I am sure that there are exciting activities taking place in RSS classrooms. Our school system has many outstanding teachers. The question is, why are the RSS students doing so poorly on the state tests and what is being done to solve the problem?

Karen Bowyer of Salisbury is a retired teacher.