Woodson Maher wonders why more people don’t stop to ask how the Greatest Generation turned out OK without having been subjected to the battery of standardized tests that take up so much time in public schools today.
Maher, who teaches marketing at Cordova High School in Shelby County Schools, isn’t convinced all of this is necessary. Testing is so time-consuming that attention is drawn away from delivering basic instruction, he said in an interview with The Tennessee Star.
“For whatever reason, it has reprioritized the curriculum,” Maher said.
Born and raised in Memphis, Maher is a product of Memphis public schools. After graduating from Lambuth University in Jackson, he began a career in marketing and advertising, spending 10 years in Nashville. An idealist long attracted to serving the community, he decided to see if he could make a difference in the classroom. He entered a teacher education program at the University of Memphis, beginning a journey in the world of education that he has found to be less than ideal.
He has written a book about his observations called Margin of Error: How Public Schools Have Failed with Standardized Testing, Teacher Certification, and Vocational Education. At the end of August, he wrote a guest column for the Commercial Appeal summarizing his concerns. He wrote:
When I returned to work this school year, each teacher was handed a school-specific standardized testing schedule for the coming year.
There were about a dozen different standardized tests on it, beginning the second week of school (last week). The assessments — with names like NWEA MAP, PSAT, easyCBM, ACT, NAEP and the TCAP EOC — sound more like medical diagnostic codes than education assessments.
All of those tests require teachers and students to devote an inordinate amount of classroom time to test prep and test-taking.
If these tests raised academic performance, why don’t vaunted private schools use them?
Ridding our public schools of standardized tests likely is impossible. Too many political leaders have bought into the system, and the system is too lucrative for too many.
Standardized testing is a multi-billion-dollar industry. A handful of testing companies are making money by the truckloads. They do this not only by producing, distributing and grading the tests, but also by producing study and prep guides that go with them.
Maher encouraged parents to opt out of testing for their children, describing the process as a simple matter beginning with parents and guardians sending a note to the school requesting full exemption.
Maher told The Star that the tests don’t assess “creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, communication and most importantly, potential.” Part of their effect on the curriculum has been to reduce vocational education opportunities, he said.
In addition, Maher said testing is a factor in the increasing amount of state and federal control over local school districts.
“There’s no local control anymore,” he said. “There’s just none.”