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Reformers’ Worries About Standardized Tests Too Little and Too Late

November 17, 2018

Two days ago Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum posted an article describing the epiphany of many reformers regarding standardized tests titled “In a shift, more education reformers say they’re worried about schools’ focus on testing“.

The epiphany is summarized in the opening paragraphs:

“If there is one office in every state I would want to get rid of, it’s the accountability office,” said Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously led a charter school in New Orleans. “I would replace that office with some kind of statewide coordination around personalized learning.” No one on the panel with him disagreed.

I think too much time, attention, and resources have been devoted to accountability systems that don’t produce outcomes for students that historically struggled,” Lewis Ferebee, the head of Indianapolis Public Schools, said later.

“The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids,” said Susan Patrick of iNACOL, an organization that promotes technology-based personalized learning in schools.

To no educators surprise, once No Child Left Behind mandated the use of standardized tests to determine whether a school was succeeding or failing and then tied those test results to the compensation of teachers and made the continued operation of the schools contingent on performing well on the tests, MOST of the teachers time, attention and resources were devoted to passing those tests. And to no educators’ surprise the students who struggled the most to pass those tests were children who came from homes where education was not as important as, say, figuring out where the family would sleep or where their next meal would come from.

And once standardized tests became the basis for judging schools, it became evident to reformers and politicians who were claiming these tests would “prepare students to enter the workforce” that it was necessary to ensure that the tests in every state were based on the same set of skills… which opened the door to the Common Core.

By the time the Obama administration had every state engaged in a Race to the Top, standardized tests were entrenched in the DNA of every school system in the nation and their importance was magnified.

So, nearly two decades later, the “reformers” who wanted a cheap, simple, and fast way to measure “school effectiveness” and “student success” have come to the conclusion that standardized tests, while cheap, simple, and fast, do NOT measure the effectiveness of schools or do an adequate job of measuring individual student learning.

But the tests cannot be abandoned as quickly as they were imposed… because there is not a quick, cheap and easy metric to take their place when it comes to measuring schools or individual student performance… and if it is impossible to do so how can a school be given a low grade and recommended for takeover by a private for profit charter chain? And how can a parent make an informed choice about the school they want to attend.

Mr. Barnum’s article concludes with this offer from a group that has long opposed standardized testing:

“I’m happy to hear that these groups are in fact grappling with and realizing some of the same problems we are,” said Andre Green, the executive director of FairTest, a group that pushes for a smaller role for testing. “Come talk to us.”

I doubt that FiarTest’s phone is ringing off the hook… and that’s too bad because they might have some insights based on what makes sense to teachers and administrators.

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