Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

Standardized Testing on the Ropes INTERNATIONALLY As Pandemic Opens the Door to Widespread Questioning of their Value

November 30, 2020 Leave a comment

The November 25 Economist featured an article datelined Seoul and Sao Paulo that described the adverse impact the pandemic is having on the use of standardized tests to sort and select the best and brightest students across the globe. Citing examples from South America, Asia, Australia and Europe, and quoting experts from those continents, the article describes how nations have varied in their decisions about administering standardized tests that determine whether most students around the world will qualify for higher education in their nation and thereby gain access to the highest paying jobs. Ultimately, the international debates mirror those going on in our country with traditionalists seeing no reason to suspend or abandon the standardized testing while progressives see the suspension and abandonment of these tests as the only way to overcome the gross inequities that result from poverty. Here’s the traditionalist view: 

Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the oecd, a club of mostly rich countries, thinks more countries could have held exams safely: “You don’t want people to talk; you don’t need them to move around; their desks are quite far apart.” So far it appears that the grades of most pupils who did sit exams this year have been no worse than usual, according to uk naric, a British government agency that keeps track of qualifications in other countries. Candidates in Germany performed a little better.

Mr. Schleicher’s argument is that the results of the pandemic-administered international tests used to benchmark the performance of various countries around the world were no different that the results of the pre-pandemic tests so, therefore, it would have been reasonable to insist that all countries administer these tests… an argument that assumes the test results reflected an even playing field to begin with, which is clearly NOT the case when 11th grade students in European countries who are only admitted to that level of schooling if they past a competitive test are compared with US students who are afforded a universal education through grade 12. 

The progressive perspective is best summarized in this paragraph:

Some psychologists worry that the pressure of exams is raising the risk that vulnerable youngsters will develop mental-health problems, early signs of which often appear during adolescence and early adulthood. Exams can also label children as failures, when they had no choice but to attend bad schools. And rich parents often pay for tutoring to boost their offspring’s chances.

But the subsequent paragraph describes the challenge progressive face: 

Yet abandoning exams creates new problems. Continuous assessment means pupils may simply “learn stuff, get a grade and then forget it”, says Dylan William, a British expert in educational assessment. Coursework can encourage students to tinker endlessly with just a few pieces of work. Junking exams only introduces new kinds of stress if the alternative is that all schoolwork counts towards final grades. Without objective assessments, learners from poor homes are more likely to be judged on their backgrounds than on their actual achievements.

So what is the way out of the woods on the question of how best to assess students? The article offers no clear answer to that question, though it does shed light on one clear consequence that seems to be emerging from the pandemic: the use of a single test as an indicator of preparedness for higher education is likely to wane: 

The pandemic may amplify calls to get rid of exams that some already thought unnecessary. Universities in America traditionally ask applicants to sit the sat or act, tests which are not required by the public school system. This year many universities waived that requirement after many exam sittings were cancelled. This delighted critics of testing, who say the exams advantage richer applicants who can pay for test-prep. About 70% of American universities offering four-year courses now operate “test-optional” admissions policies, up from around 45% before the pandemic.

In England the pandemic has raised fresh questions about the future of gcses, a flurry of exams taken by 16-year-olds. These have become less crucial as a result of reforms that require teenagers to stay in some kind of education or training until they are 18. Developing countries have been gradually junking exams they have traditionally used to decide which children may enter secondary school. This year’s crisis could speed that up.

Ultimately, as educators, psychologists, and policy makers examine the impact of the pandemic and the way technology has been used in a more widespread fashion, a consensus on the way schools are organized might emerge: a consensus that the age-based cohort groupings implemented in the name of administrative efficiency in the early 20th Century might not make sense in an era where everyone has access to self-paced learning… and given the ability to individualize the pace of instruction schools might focus more on their most important function: developing the skills students need to work harmoniously in a democracy. 


DeVos Cancels NAEP, the Gold Standard, but Urges Far Less Valid State Tests to Persist

November 27, 2020 Leave a comment

Perry Stein of the Washington Post offered this short article yesterday:

The national standardized test regarded as a crucial barometer of student achievement could be postponed until 2022 due to the coronavirus, the Education Department announced Wednesday.

Federal officials said that too many students are participating in virtual learning or are attending schools that prohibit outside visitors, making it impossible to effectively administer the exam.

The article doesn’t say so… but Ms. DeVos has already insisted that STATES continue with their tests, because, presumably, some states are keeping schools open and not doing remote learning.

So here’s a conundrum for me, someone who is opposed to the widespread use of test-based accountability: should I be happy this is happening or not? Surprisingly, I am disappointed to see the NAEP fall by the wayside because I feel it is the most valid means of determining which states are performing the best. When States design tests and set cut scores they can do so in a way that makes them appear better than they are by dumbing the tests down or setting low cut scores for proficiency… but the NAEP serves as a fair and impartial yardstick of progress at the state level. Where psychometrics go wrong is when they try to draw conclusions about schools— or even worse— TEACHERS based on test scores.

If Ms. DeVos were insisting that ALL standardized tests go on hiatus I would be applauding the decision. Cancelling NAEP seems wrongheaded to me.

President-Elect Biden Needs to Follow NPE Recommendations if it Hopes to Restore REAL Public Education

November 25, 2020 Leave a comment

Common Dreams writer Kenny Stancil uses the White Paper from the Network for Public Education (NPE) as the basis for his article that offers a clear direction for the Biden administration to take if they hope to undo 20 years of “accountability driven school reform”. Calling on President Biden to fulfill “promised commitment to our nation’s public schools”, NPE Executive Director Carol Burris offered five clear objectives that will do just that:

  • Rebuild our nation’s public schools, which have been battered by the pandemic, two decades of failed federal policy, and years of financial neglect;

  • Reject efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via vouchers or charter schools;

  • End the era of high-stakes standardized testing—in both the immediate future and beyond;

  • Promote diversity, desegregation (both among and within schools), and commit to eliminating institutional racism in school policy and practices; and

  • Promote educational practices that are child-centered, inquiry-based, intellectually challenging, culturally responsive, and respectful of all students’ innate capacities and potential to thrive.

In the White Paper Ms. Burris also calls for sufficient funding to re-open schools in a fashion that ensures that the physical and mental health of students is addressed and the lost funding is restored. Most importantly, NPE wants schools to be governed by democratically elected officials and all programs designed to provide tuition to private and religious schools ended:

“Neighborhood public schools governed by their communities are essential to the health of our democracy and the well-being of children,” NPE noted. “We need a public education champion in the Department of Education who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via private school vouchers or charter schools.”

…the Biden administration “must oppose any congressional attempts to institute tax credit programs designed to subsidize private and religious school tuition,” which siphons much-needed resources from underfunded and unequal public schools…

Mr. Stancil’s article elaborates on the consequences of implementing the five objectives, the most far reaching of which would be the end to any and all standardized testing.

The pandemic MAY have a positive by-product: the de facto closure of school-as-we-know-it opens the door for a reinvention of public education, a reinvention that would be well served if it met the five objectives NPE sets forth…. and in doing so he could create jobs in construction and human services, empower locally elected officials to meet the unique needs of the children in their community, and build democracy back. The only losers in all of this: the venture capitalists who seek efficiency over creativity.