Hopefully by now all parents of Nebraska public school children have received the results of the Nebraska State Accountability (NeSA) test. This test—which covers reading, writing, and math (and science for older students)—provides a specific score that indicates whether or not standards are met. NeSA tests measure, report, and compare student performance across the state primarily through a standardized, multiple-choice format.
Federal requirements tied to school funding have pushed Nebraska and other states to utilize more standardized tests as a measure of accountability. Some politicians have even gone as far as to suggest schools be graded and funded based upon these test results.
But standardized tests are a snapshot of what students “know” on a particular day—one small piece of the educational puzzle. Which begs the question: Do standardized tests measure what Nebraskans value most in education?
There are many other ways to quantify or observe what students have learned in the classroom. Performance assessments are useful to measure skills and knowledge across content areas through group and individual projects, demonstrations, experiments, or essays. Students can also prepare portfolios that provide a comprehensive view of their learning.
In addition, there are many skills not measured by a formal assessment. Creativity, interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence are not measured on standardized tests, yet these are important skills needed for career and personal success. One of the best ways to know what is going on in the classroom is for parents to have conversations with their child and their child’s teacher.
It is important for parents to keep standardized test scores in perspective and remember that there is not one simple test that will measure what students know or the skills they have acquired throughout the school year.