Why Is Standardized Testing A Novel Experience For Walden Students?

October 23, 2014

adapted from Director’s Notes written by Matt Allio in previous years

The standardized testing experience at Walden School is novel because our faculty looks for depth in skills and content and not simply repetition of the covered material. As a progressive school, our students are the center of gravity and not the text or tests. Standardized tests are a significant departure from how we view learning at Walden. The concept of expressing one’s knowledge of reading comprehension through a 35-minute timed test, where short passages are silently read, and 45 bubbles are filled in with a #2 pencil is a novel experience for Walden students.

Walden students in the 3rd to 6th grade take the CTP4 (Comprehensive Testing Program) standardized tests published by ERB (Educational Records Bureau). Each morning of one week in the fall, students complete a battery of tests: verbal reasoning; writing mechanics; quantitative reasoning; vocabulary; mathematics; and reading comprehension.

How do the roots of the progressive school movement align with standardized testing? Tracing the history of progressive education takes us back to the dawn of the 20th century when educational philosopher John Dewey took action against the established practice of achieving cultural conformity and dutiful citizens through education. Dewey believed that, with the decline of local community life and small scale enterprise, young people were losing valuable opportunities to learn the skills of democratic participation, and he concluded that progressive, experiential education would need to make up for that loss.

Dewey founded the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, where he experimented with some of his ideas about deliberate, reflective practice. Dewey’s progressive ideals of learning through direct and applicable experience preceded the standardized test movement of a few decades later. Colleges began to use the SAT in 1926 and by the 1950’s the average public school student took three standardized tests before graduating high school.

As a progressive, experiential school we work at Walden to align ourselves with Dewey’s theories; however, our students will take tests that may be considered traditional in that they are timed, the content is set, they classify and stratify students by scores and norms, place content above process, and do not place value on creativity or critical thinking.

Walden School Director Matt Allio believes strongly there is important value to these tests. Each year, we do an item analysis on the collective scores and we identify areas in which a class did well or poorly. This data enables teachers to plan more effectively for the remainder of the year and is why Walden students take the test in the fall.

Additionally, exposure to the tests, we believe, is enlightening to our students. There is value in students understanding the CTP4 is one of many measures that determines what they may have learned. There is value in teachers understanding the CTP4 is one way to look for areas of limitation and strength in our academic program.

While the tests might not be the most compelling measuring stick for what a student learns, they can provide an overview of skill sets of students and grade levels. For more information about CTP4 testing at Walden, please contact Director of Studies Terra Toscano.

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