Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

“Teaching for Mastery” Envisioned Formative and Criterion Referenced Tests and the Issuance Diplomas the Way We Issue Drivers Licenses. Such a Paradigm Would Change Schooling for the Better…. Yet Such a Paradigm Seems Impossible to Attain

May 9, 2021 1 comment

As an undergraduate and graduate student I was fascinated by the concept of testing. In the late 1960s there were many competing theories about the role testing should play. Should IQ tests play a role in grouping children? What about standardized tests? What about SAT tests? What about the teacher-developed tests that served as the means of identifying the valedictorian?  Worse, some theorists were suggesting that tests could be used to determine whether some groups were “more intelligent” than others.

As an undergraduate, I took a “course” I designed with my academic advisor in college where I took 6 different IQ tests to gain an understanding of what those tests measured. He gave me readings that explained the theory behind IQ testing and readings on what each of the IQ tests purportedly measured. My results varied by over 30 points which meant I was either a relatively “intelligent” person or a “genius”.

As a graduate student in the early 1970s, as noted in earlier posts, I took a course in testing where the first assignment was to read the first chapter of the textbook assigned to us and find seven errors in the construction of questions on the Stanford test, the standardized test being used to “rank” the schools in the district. There were 13 of the 80+ questions that had mistakes.

Both of these experiences led me to question the efficacy of testing in determining the capability of individual students or the rating for schools. I concluded that any use of tests as the sole determinant for student or school success was foolhardy at best and counterproductive at worst.

Nearly 30 years ago the school board I was serving asked that I provide them and the teachers with a vision for how I wanted to see schools look in the future. It was by far the most challenging assignment I was ever given and the result was a plan I called “Teaching for Mastery”. The elevator talk for this vision was in the 1990s schools could no longer function as a means of “sorting and selecting” children as they had since the 1920s. If we hoped to compete on a global level in the coming years we needed to assure that every graduate would be ready for post-secondary work, ready to enter the workplace, or both— a phrase that was coined by the State Department in Maryland and resonated with me.

The heart of “teaching for Mastery” revolved around testing. My assertion was that testing in school should work the same way as testing for driving: no one gets a license until they demonstrate proficiency. Licenses are only given to those who pass not only a pencil and paper test but also pass a performance test. The ONLY differentiation on a license if by physical requirements you need to get behind the wheel. For example, I need to wear glasses to operate a car and thankfully my license doesn’t let me get on the road unless I am wearing them. Other drivers with physical handicaps needed to operate in vehicles that provided them with the tools that made it possible for them to operate the vehicle safely. There was no “ranking” of drivers licenses based on the pencil-and-paper test and no ranking based on the performance test. You either demonstrated the skills or you took the test again and again until you did. If you took the test five times before passing you got the same license as someone who took the test once. If you start with THAT premise, schooling changes completely. Time and energy (and money) is spent eliminating determining the skills needed to navigate life and giving students as much time as necessary to attain those skills.

If testing in school should work the same way as testing for driving, if we taught for mastery instead of teaching to get a certain percentage of students above an artificially created cut score on a standardized test, no one would get a diploma until they demonstrate proficiency in life skills.  If you start with THAT premise, time is variable and performance is variable.

A decade later I knew that “Teaching for Mastery” was going to be derailed. I thought that after a few years parents and voters would come to their senses and abandon the 1920 paradigm of using tests to sort and select. Sadly, I was wrong. The schooling paradigm seems intractable. It has bipartisan support and the support of those who schools have identified as “successful”, the very individuals who might be unsettled if the rules of the game changed for their children.

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Three Paragraphs from Bob McManus’ NYPost Op Ed Underscore All That is Wrong with Gifted and Talented Programs

May 4, 2021 Leave a comment

In three paragraphs, Bob McManus unwittingly reveals everything that is wrong with the notion of segregating “gifted and talented” students from their purportedly inferior classmates. Here are the paragraphs: 

…the most serious threat to Asian-American New Yorkers is the Department of Education’s ill-disguised effort to eliminate merit-test-based admission to the city’s eight highly selective high schools. The process is dominated by Asian kids to the virtual exclusion of black and Hispanic students.

The new numbers came out last week, and they are beyond harsh: Asians won 54 percent of this year’s freshman class seats; whites, 28 percent; Hispanics, 5 percent and African-Americans, 4 percent.

Whereupon Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter demanded an end to test-based admissions — because “It’s far past time for our students to be fairly represented.”

Throughout the article, McManus never questions the presumption that “merit-test-based admission” is the only way to identify students who might thrive in the kinds of non-traditional programs that are currently open only to those students who perform well on standardized tests. Nor does he question the presumption that “merit-test-based admission” is the only way to identify the “highly selective” cohort who should qualify for the small number of “elite” schools. Mr. McManus’ world tests are the be all and end all… much the same way they are in China, North Korea, and Russia. 

As for Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, her heart is in the right place but her use of the term “our students” is unfortunate… but fully in keeping with the kind of “othering” that results when a sole test is used to sort students into externally imposed groups. Once a system dedicates time and energy into segregating “gifted and talented” students from other children it is simultaneously dividing students into winners and losers… and, in the case of NYC, the losers FAR outnumber the winners and the sore losers likely outnumber the winners. 

Schools don’t need tests to motivate students to succeed. They only need to identify the topics students are interested in and give them the chance to pursue those interests. Given time, students sort themselves into interest groups: “cliques” of jocks, stoners, nerds, gear-heads, party animals, band kids, etc. etc. They don’t take tests to enter the groups, they gravitate toward students with common interests and common backgrounds. MAYBE instead of testing kids to sort them into externally defined groups of “gifted” and “ungifted” children schools should spend time reinforcing the interests children have so that they can learn on their own. 

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NYTimes David Leonhardt Continues to Disappoint by Reinforcing the Bipartisan Support for Test and Punish

April 28, 2021 Leave a comment

I subscribe to “The Morning”, David Leonhardt’s daily newsletter from the NYTimes that offers an overview of the news of the day. As readers of this blog may recall, I often found myself in disagreement with Mr. Leonhardt’s perspectives on public education, particularly his sustained and continued support for the “reform” movement that swept the country following No Child Left Behind. Here’s an excerpt from today’s newsletter that was especially disappointing given all that has transpired over the past two decades:

One example: Democrats are not the only ones with constructive ideas about education. Republicans sometimes put more emphasis on school accountability, while Democrats assume — incorrectly — that adequate funding ensures high quality. If the two parties were negotiating over a bill, it might include a mix of both sides’ best ideas.

I invite readers to click on the link… and read an article from 2004 that offers the conclusion:

The accountability mechanism implemented by the No Child Left Behind Act highlights the use of standardized test scores to measure education quality. Although such scores may be imperfect measures of education quality, their use is meant to shift attention to outcomes and to avoid reliance on input measures, such as student-teacher ratios or spending per pupil. Some economists believe this is important because an accountability system opens the door for additional reforms that would help provide parents and school officials with the right incentives to make socially optimal choices on education investment.Incentives based on students’ outcomes are more likely to be effective and to have a long-term impact on academic achievement than the incentives provided by merely increasing spending in education.

This implies that these scores, which the author acknowledges are “…imperfect measures of education quality” are nevertheless important tools for parents to make socially optimal choices on education investment. 

Here’s my question for David Leonhardt: How on earth does one make an optimal choice based on a set of imperfect quality metrics? He’s definitely had too many sips of the kool-aid of spreadsheet driven venture capitalists who, in an effort to find a cold objective metric settled on standardized testing. I would hope that the failure of this concept would have dawned on Mr. Leonhardt and the “reformers” after 16 years… but it appears that we will continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

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