EOCs are nuisance but important

Nathan Epps
Contributing Writer

Signs outside of classrooms such as this one indicate when EOC testing is taking place.
Signs outside of classrooms such as this one indicate when EOC testing is taking place. Photo by Donald Johnson.

Every year, nearly 70,000 Missouri students take the standardized End of Course exams, which test their learning capabilities and the strength of their schools’ curriculum.

The test results are used to determine how well each school teaches its students. However, because the tests do not depend on the schools’ individual curricula, many see them as mismanaged and pointless, and a poor assessment of the schools’ practices. The schools form their curriculum without knowing what will be on the EOC, so it’s possible students will be tested on something they’ve never covered.

Vice principal Angela Thompson said while the test can be a good assessment, especially for the economically challenged schools that need it, the data it provides is only a tiny slice of what schools, teachers and students do. She added WGHS tries to think beyond the tests when making their curriculum.

Thompsons described the EOC’s evaluative ability as a narrow assessment of a school’s performance. The tests are an assessment of a student’s ability to learn, but not the “full picture” they’re supposed to be. These tests take results from individual students’ performance on one specific test, rather than the year’s cumulative results from work and tests, or the performance of students and teachers.
However, it helps staff make decisions, despite being “the opposite of 21st century learning,” in Thompson’s words. Some consider standardized tests rote, “drill and kill” teaching, a mostly pejorative label.

About whether tests assess the schools fairly, Thompson said they are a small piece of the picture. However, she also said they are a good gauge for “curricular achievement,” the success of the curriculum at teaching students.

Test results are sent to the state, superintendent (and assistants), administrators and teachers. They’re used mostly to monitor trends in learning, graded by the percentage of correct answers.
Each department uses the tests in its own way, looking to gather different types of data. For instance, one department might use these results to gauge student achievement, while another will use the same data to gauge college aptitude.

About the data’s use, Thompson said it’s good for struggling schools, and it makes sure the same content is being taught across schools. She added, “We should be expanding our picture of a quality school” saying schools should be judged by what the students do with their lives after high school. After all, education’s success is usually measured by how it’s applied.
Using test results to decide a school’s budget is a controversial issue, with many schools speaking publicly against it.

Thompson said DESE’s accreditation certainly plays a role, but that tests are not the only factor, or even the most important. DESE also tests attendance, graduation rate and other important factors.
According to Thompson, adhering to these standards “puts good and bad pressure on schools.”

Standardized tests have gained infamy for the anxiety they cause in teachers and students, and the uses of the results in evaluation and accreditation have upset teachers, students and parents alike. However, they do encourage staff and students to work towards success and can give much needed accreditation to schools that lack funding.

About the relationship between schools’ curricula and the tests they’re assigned, Thompson said WGHS “thinks beyond the assessment.” She added the curriculum is “all about skills, not questions” as it’s built for “big picture learning.” WGHS’s curriculum is “informed, not controlled by” the tests. It’s made independently but meets testing requirements. WGHS covers the listed requirements but can’t see what the tests specifically ask.

About whether schools should have more control over the tests and how they would go about gaining said control, Thompson said DESE’s process has teachers elected to represent in the democratic process of academic decision making.

This ensures that the people voting on these things have experience in the field they’re making decisions for.

There are still many hotly debated issues in the academic field, and it’s important to keep an informed perspective when casting a vote or taking a stand.

Standardized tests may be the bane of the student’s existence, but they’re certainly valuable for schools and teachers.

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