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About those CMS tests: We told you so

A paragraph in an Observer report illustrates exactly why standardized tests are a critical tool.
A paragraph in an Observer report illustrates exactly why standardized tests are a critical tool. TNS

If you missed it this holiday weekend, you should read Ann Doss Helms’ thoughtful, thorough analysis of how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools did in the latest batch of test scores that were announced across North Carolina last week. There are, as expected, chronic areas of concern for CMS, but there are also a lot of incremental, encouraging gains that can be sifted from the data. Ann noticed them. They matter.

Here’s a paragraph near the end of her report that struck me:

“In high school, English 2 tests proved to be CMS’ biggest setback, with the pass rate declining by 3.5 points. Clark said the district will provide extra support this year for teachers of that subject in hopes of reversing that trend.”

What’s striking about that? It illustrates exactly why standardized tests are an important tool for educators.

Yes, we’ve mentioned this before about tests – including here and here (and OK, here too).

Tests are not fun. Teachers and parents worry about them taking away from instructional time. And certainly, CMS has in the past gone a little overboard with all the bubbles that kids have to fill in.

But tests, when applied well, offer insight into how students are progressing individually and in groups. The English 2 scores illustrate precisely how that should work. The data showed a slight year-over-year decline that likely would have been missed. CMS officials took note, and now they’ll work on determining what’s happened and what can get better.

That sort of thing will be happening all over the district, not only with low-performing schools, but with officials in other schools who thought students were doing better overall or in a particular subject than last week’s scores revealed.

No, standardized tests aren’t perfect. They don’t – and can’t – measure everything we think is important in schools. But like them or not, they tell us a lot.

Peter St. Onge

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