Home > Uncategorized > Sorry, FairTest! ESSA is NOT Going to Save the Day… and ALL Teachers are NOT Ready to Administer Well Conceived Assessments.

Sorry, FairTest! ESSA is NOT Going to Save the Day… and ALL Teachers are NOT Ready to Administer Well Conceived Assessments.

I generally agree with FairTest’s perspective on the overuse of standardized testing and periodically pore through and greatly appreciate their carefully archived articles describing the flaws of those tests. But I find myself at odds with Mr. Neill’s optimism regarding ESSA, his faith in the ability of all teachers to develop and thoughtfully use assessments, and his unwillingness to accept any form of computerized testing. All of this was prompted by an article of his published in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet titled “How Testing Practices Have to Change in US Public Schools”. The following is an elaboration on the comment I left on-line in response to the article:

Mr. Neill overlooks some sobering political realities in his rosy assessment of the status of standardized testing:

First, 35 states are under the control of Republican governors and/or legislatures and many of those states are of a mind to “run schools like a business”. In doing so they will likely continue their use of standardized tests as the primary metric for “school quality”.
Second, the ESSA rules are likely to be undone by the incoming administration in a fashion that might effectively encourage (or mandate) the restoration of standardized tests. Mr. Neill undoubtedly recalls that the VATs included in RTTT were not a legislated mandate; they were a de facto administrative mandate foisted on public schools and states by the USODE.

Third, there is an implicit belief that the end of standardized testing will result in the simultaneous advent of well conceived teacher developed tests. Having led public school districts from 1981 through 2011 I can attest to the fact that testing practices vary wildly from classroom to classroom and that most teachers never had training in the development of effective assessments. And despite their uneven quality and inconsistency, those teacher developed tests were always “high stakes assessments” from the student’s perspective since they were used to determine if a student passed or failed a course. Moreover, since the advent of NCLB the teacher’s ability to develop assessments has eroded. Teachers in all but the most affluent school districts are primarily focussed on improving standardized test scores. The bottom line on teacher developed assessments: if Mr. Neill hopes to rely the their use for accountability purposes it will require a massive staff development initiative.

Fourth, the call to avoid the use of computerized formative assessments is misguided. Teachers routinely give pencil-and-paper assessments and— yes even in this day and age— worksheets that are presumably designed to determine if a student has mastered the content the teacher presented. Administering those routine assignments via computer frees the time teachers use for grading those quizzes and worksheets enables them to use that time to individualize instruction. The use of well-crafted computerized formative assessments would be a huge step forward if it displaced the quizzes and worksheets that to this day are used as “seat work” in schools.

Mr. Neill’s cause is a righteous one, and I believe we ARE making progress in the way we use assessments at the national level. But I also believe we need to be clear-eyed about the ability for public schools to move in a different direction when it comes to accountability.

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