The start of a new school year is filled with rituals: supply lists, schedules, finding classrooms, meeting teachers, making new friends.

In these days of the data-driven education, we have established a new ritual: the baseline test.

In the first few days of school, children will undergo a slew of baseline tests, one for every subject or course they take. For a secondary student, that is eight tests because even such esoteric subjects such as art or gym must have a baseline test.

You remember this guy from the Batman movies.

Before I go into the internet problems my school district experienced this week trying to accomplish baseline testing, let us examine the very idea itself.


A baseline test checks for pre-existing knowledge in students, that is, what do they already know about the subject and content they will encounter during the school year. The theory is that if the students already know something, there is no point in teaching it.

For efficiency’s sake, these tests are administered via standardized mediums, computer or paper-based. (Think bubble sheets.)

Numerous problems arise from this process.

First, how do we know whether the students actually know the material or are merely good test-takers?

Every year, I dutifully look up my student data for their performance on the last state test in mathematics. Every year, almost all of them ‘passed.’ (I put the word in quotes because a pass involves answering about 30% of the questions correctly.) Every year, I find out through classroom experience that although they ‘passed,’ they really do not have the skills mastered and need remediation.

Even if students have something of a means of solving a problem correctly, I find it beneficial for them to teach the lesson so they can gain a deep understanding of the content.

Baseline tests do not help teachers make instructional decisions.

Students hate the tests. Let’s listen to the typical student’s thoughts about the test: This is so stupid. Why do they expect me to know this stuff? Duh, they put me in this class to learn it. Why are they testing me now? Can I Christmas-Tree the test? I want to put my head down and close my eyes. Why do they always try to make me feel stupid?

Teachers hate the tests. Let’s listen to their thoughts: This is so stupid. I haven’t taught any of this yet. I would rather begin instruction. OMG, the kids are freaking out. I need to tell them this is not a grade and I do not expect them to know any of it. Yet I can’t let them blow it off or someone will accuse me of deliberately trying to lower the scores to improve my student growth score at the end of the year. Baseline tests tell me nothing. They are worthless, but I can’t say that. How am I going to pull this off? Oh, s**t, the internet is down. All the kids have been kicked out of the test. What am I going to do now?

Yes, given the internet problems that Duval County Public Schools has experienced this week, the only thing baseline testing has accomplished is to allow administrators to see how nimble their teachers are in adjusting to adversity and maintaining student learning rather than letting the time go to waste.

Our internet service went out, came back, and went down again.

For me, one class tested. One class tried, stared at their screens for 25 minutes waiting for the test to appear, then I aborted. Next time, that class tested and got half done before everyone was kicked out. The Internet has gone out again. By the way, the kids laughed. As they didn’t want to do it, they found it really funny that the infrastructure got in the way.

One more class tested. What will Monday bring? Got three more classes to do before dealing with that half-done class.

My nice, neat plan of instruction is in tatters.

But that’s not the worst of it.

These baseline scores will be compared to the scores students post at the end-of-the-year to determine how good of a teacher I am. Given the disruptions, given that some instruction leaves some kids able to answer questions that they couldn’t before, given that there is no consistency in the testing from school to school and classroom to classroom, given that I as a teacher will be compared to other teachers to determine if I should stay at my school or even remain employed, how can anyone think this mess has caused the entire system of measuring teacher performance by test score to be anything but unfair, distorted, arbitrary, and capricious?

Yeah, this guy. He hates civilization; bring on the chaos.

bane_2-470x540Your internet is going down. I don’t care about fairness to teachers or what testing does to students.

You think we want to know how well you teach?

oago348929&(81,. Sorry, that noise is laughter, my breathing apparatus doesn’t do laughter.

You think this is bad, wait until the Spring when you have to do state tests. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha.

3 thoughts on “The Bane of Baseline Testing

  1. Resist and refuse to cooperate. Why be a party to educational malpractice? If the doc tells a nurse to give an injection at 100xs the normal dosage is that nurse expected to follow that doc’s order? Hell no! Same thing here. You are being ordered to perform an educational malpractice, one that you know harms the students in the teaching and learning process. Why would one do that?

    Because one needs to keep one’s job is the response most given to that question. For another thought on the matter I refer you to Andre Comte-Sponville (heaven forbid we’d listen to a modern French philosopher) about self-interest and justice:

    “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete. . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value?. . . Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”—Comte-Sponville [my additions]

    And from one of America’s premier writers:

    “The mass of men [and women] serves the state [education powers that be] thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, [administrators and teachers], etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”- Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862], American author and philosopher


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