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NY Times Editors Botch Another Analysis

December 31, 2015

A few days ago I wrote a post critiquing the article written by Mokoto Rich on the erosion of graduation standards. Today’s NYTimes has an editorial on this topic that is wrong in so many ways that it warranted multiple comments… but rather than pick the particular flaws to pieces I decided to focus on the underlying problem which is (no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly) the use of standardized tests administered to students in age-based cohorts as the primary merit for measuring school performance:

Standardized tests administered to students grouped in age-level cohorts are based on the assumption that all children learn at the same rate and begin their schooling with the same foundational skills. Neither of these premises is valid. Yet when test results remain stagnant the “solution” is never the abandonment of the age-based cohorts that were instituted in the 1920s when such groupings were seen as the most “efficient” way to deliver instruction… an era when children who couldn’t meet graduation standards could find work in factories that ultimately provided them with a living wage.

ESSA, the NYT editorial board, and the test-and-punish “reformers” reinforce the existing structure of schooling by emphasizing the results of standardized tests administered to students batched in age cohorts. If we really want to provide an education that lifts up those students who are struggling in school now we should provide a robust preschool program for all children and use technology to individualize instruction in a fashion that allows each student to progress at a rate that assures their success. In this model teachers provide individual guidance and assistance to students and spend time with them one-on-one.

If you want to see evidence that this model works look no further than the way we train and test for the issuance of drivers licenses where performance assessments, not bell-curved standardized tests, are used to measure performance.

Instead of focussing on the wrongheaded premise that testing is a valid means of measuring school performance, college readiness, and workforce preparedness, the times criticized teachers unions, state legislatures, and “weak tests” for the lack of qualified high school graduates. Worse, the editorial board made no mention of poverty, economic and racial segregation, and funding inequities in their analysis. When the editorial board of the “national newspaper of record”, a supposedly liberal paper, cannot get the facts straight on the cause of disparate and low performing public schools it is hard to imagine a time when the public’s thinking about schooling will change.

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