Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Problem with Testing

Based on the title, The Trouble With Testing Mania, I feared that this NYT editorial would be a hatchet job, but I actually thought it made mostly fair and reasonable points. We have a long way to go to improve tests and make sure that they are robust and fair instead of lousy and easily game-able. My oldest daughter just took three AP exams and I took six in high school – and I’ve almost never heard of anyone criticize them for lack of rigor, teaching to the test behavior, etc. The right answer isn’t to eliminate tests and accountability, but rather to improve the tests and testing system.

The best schools, which are achieving off-the-charts outcomes with the most disadvantaged students, almost all use A TON of tests, but good tests (often ones generated by the teachers) that are primarily used to make sure that EVERY student is learning the materials being taught. Then, by the time the required state tests come around, the kids know the material and there are few surprises for anyone: principal, teacher, parents, child. This is the opposite of teaching to the test.

Congress made a sensible decision a decade ago when it required the states to administer yearly tests to public school students in exchange for federal education aid. The theory behind the No Child Left Behind Act was that holding schools accountable for test scores would force them to improve instruction for groups of children whom they had historically shortchanged.

Testing did spur some progress in student performance. But it has become clear to us over time that testing was being overemphasized — and misused — in schools that were substituting test preparation for instruction. Even though test-driven reforms were helpful in the beginning, it is now clear that they will never bring this country’s schools up to par with those of the high-performing nations that have left us far behind in math, science and even literacy instruction.
Congress required the states to give annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight (and once in high school) as a way of ensuring that students were making progress and that minority children were being fairly educated. Schools that did not meet performance targets for two years were labeled as needing improvement and subjected to sanctions. Fearing that they would be labeled poor performers, schools and districts — especially in low-income areas — rolled out a relentless series of “diagnostic” tests that were actually practice rounds for the high-stakes exams to come.

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