School Psychologist: The biggest obstacle to “learning how to learn” is high stakes testing.

Dear Bill and Melinda,

As a School Psychologist, I love nothing more than good data. After thirteen years on the job, I still get a thrill every time I score a cognitive or academic test. There is something very solid and reassuring about a standard score and percentile rank that can be reported in writing and shared at a meeting. After thirteen years, I also realize how unimportant these numbers are. My job is not to find out, “How smart are you?” My job is to figure out, “How are you smart?” The numbers are a jumping off point and my job is to take the jump.

All students, but especially those with learning difficulties, need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. They need to learn how to learn, and to be guided in their pursuit of their passions and interests.

The biggest obstacle to this is high stakes testing. Students lose weeks and weeks of instruction time in order to prepare for these tests. Students lose interest in the material, and the scores tell us NOTHING we did not already know about the student. As a numbers junkie, I am continually impressed by the data teachers gather daily on their students. At the elementary level, teachers know their students intimately. They can track their progress with minute detail, using multiple measures. They are experts.

As a School Psychologist, I am also keenly aware of the business of assessment. The most useful (criterion based) assessments are free. They are based on years and years of pedagogical experience and supporting research data, and help track the individual student’s progress over time. However, many companies also offer expensive standardized assessments. I use them every single day. I cannot emphasize enough the limits of these assessments, even when administered individually by an experienced clinician. Obviously, I believe the data they yield to be useful, but only a small part of the picture of the whole child.

As an assessment specialist, I can imagine nothing more ludicrous, or irresponsible, than giving precious, limited public funds to corporations developing high stakes tests for the masses. Students are unique individuals, and educators are experts in measuring growth. Education is an art and a science; it is not a business.


Jennifer Slatkin
Seattle, Washington


About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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4 Responses to School Psychologist: The biggest obstacle to “learning how to learn” is high stakes testing.

  1. LA says:

    Well said and exactly how I would put it. As a fellow School Psychologist and School Neuropsychologist I TOTALLY concur!

  2. So true! I have rarely been surprised by a result I have received on a standardized test. Teachers KNOW their students. My favorite part about working with our school psychologist (besides the fact that she’s awesome) is when I get to hear what she discovered through her detailed assessments and observations and then her recommendations on what we, the school and the parents, need to do to help that child. That’s the problem with wide-spread standardized testing. It does not go to that next step. And that’s the step I need.

  3. This is wonderful. I love working with my school psychologist to find out how we can help our kids succeed. Her testing and observations usually uncover things that I would have never known but mostly they confirm what I already suspected. Where her expertise is most valued is in the recommendations and suggestions that she can give us, parents and teachers, on how to help this individual child.
    Massive standardized testing cannot do this. It can detect general areas of difficulty but it can’t look at an individual children and tell me, the teacher, how I can help this child succeed.
    I’m not saying standardized testing serves no purpose. It does. But to give it the elevated level of importance it now carries? Dangerous.

  4. Penny Peterson says:

    Jennifer’s letter is spot-on — in addition, I am humbly proud that I have known her since she was born! In addition, she spent some time with me when I was a practicing school psychologist for Montgomery County Public Schools in MD. I have worked in that school system since 1965 — am currently retired from full-time practice, but return yearly as a temporary to cover for persons out on leave for a variety of reasons. Times and tests have changed over these many years, and kids continue to present with a constellation of complicated issues — but our mission continues to be as “educational detectives,” to discover how students learn, and to maximize those conditions. Congratulations Jen — it is persons such as yourself that will continue to inspire and lead in the future of education! I write with affection, penny

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