Testing and Ethics

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Well folks, testing season is upon us. As I dutifully read hundreds of pages of required testing manuals, I have found something that is very interesting. All NC teachers are bound by the NC Testing Code of Ethics. This Code was enshrined into law by state general statues in 1997 and has not been revised since 2000. The Code clearly states:

Unethical testing practices include, but are not limited to, the following practices:
(1) encouraging students to be absent the day of testing;
(2) encouraging students not to do their best because of the purposes of the test; and
(7) not testing all eligible students;

And if educators violate these provisions:

In the event of a violation of this Rule, the SBE may, in accordance with the contested case provisions of Chapter 150B of the General Statutes, impose any one or more of the following sanctions:
(1) withhold ABCs incentive awards from individuals or from all eligible staff in a school; (*note, these bonuses were eliminated years ago)
(2) file a civil action against the person or persons responsible for the violation for copyright infringement or for any other available cause of action;
(3) seek criminal prosecution of the person or persons responsible for the violation; and
(4) in accordance with the provisions of 16 NCAC 6C .0312, suspend or revoke the professional license of the person or persons responsible for the violation

Most teachers have interpreted these statements to mean that according to state law, it is unethical to discuss any matters related to parent or student refusal to test. North Carolina does not have any opt out provisions, there is no straightforward way for parents to refuse participation, and there is little guidance from the state as to what teachers, schools, or districts should do if a family refuses (other that grade a blank scantron and assign the child a level 1 for the test). The Code does not clarify if the unethical practice of encouraging students to not take the test or not do their best applies only to students at the school where the teacher works or any NC public school student; including the teacher’s own children. There is also no clarity if educators are bound by this code at all times or are protected by free speech rules in spaces where they speak as a private citizens, not school employees.

When these provisions were written in 1997, they were clearly aimed at teachers and schools that might try to avoid testing low achieving students in order to improve overall test scores. It is doubtful our policy makers at the time could have envisioned the current growing opposition to testing coming from parents.

I think it is also important to draw attention to some other parts of the Code of Ethics:

Because standardized tests provide only one valuable piece of information, such information should be used in conjunction with all other available information known about a student to assist in improving student learning…Educators shall use test scores appropriately. This means that the educator recognizes that a test score is only one piece of information and must be interpreted together with other scores and indicators.

(g) Unethical testing practices include, but are not limited to, the following practices:
(11) using a single test score to make individual decisions; and
(12) misleading the public concerning the results and interpretations of test data.

So it would appear that any teacher, school, or district that threatens grade level retention or bases placement in AIG or Honors classes only test scores without considering other factors is also acting unethically. Regardless, social media is full of reports of schools and districts in NC making just such threats to families who express an interest in refusing to test. Teachers, schools, and districts are under enormous testing pressures (including a required 95% participation rate) and, according to the laws of North Carolina, are ethically bound to ensure all students test and are encouraged to do their best. Those facts still do not excuse other unethical behaviors.

Again, it is doubtful that those writing this policy in 1997 could have envisioned the high stakes that are attached to today’s standardized tests and the ways that this data is impacting teachers and schools.

Perhaps it is time to revisit the current Testing Code of Ethics. Families and schools both deserve more clarity and guidance to better navigate the ethics of testing in our current context. For example, is it ethical for a school to test children for whom testing brings great mental anguish and emotional harm? The code states that educators should not mislead the public concerning the interpretation of test data, what about the quality of the assessment? Shouldn’t an educator also have an ethical responsibility to ensure the public is not misled in regards to quality and/or appropriateness of the assessment? These are just some of the many discussions that need to happen.

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One thought on “Testing and Ethics

  1. Pingback: Testing and Ethics, Part 2 | The Patiently Impatient Teacher

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