Democratic Underground

The Test is Not the Answer
July 16, 2001
by Slow_Simmer

The craze for national testing is like the craving for sugar to cure an appetite: it may feel good, but it doesn't address the problem. I am not against tests. I am against false measurements. Picking the case for national testing apart, based on information from the Washington Post for a story that ran July 8, 2001:

• Polls show that at least 3 of 4 Americans endorse using standardized testing to reward or punish students and educators. Therefore, at least 3 of 4 Americans therefore consider testing to be a disciplinary function, a finite end to the infinite quality of lifelong learning. You can't learn from a test; you can only be measured by it, and graded (or degraded).

• In California, raises and bonuses for teachers and principals are determined in large measure by test results. Therefore, teachers and principals are being paid for the performance of other people: just like managers. School is business.

• In Alabama, school budgets can be enhanced based on test results; educator's careers can rise and fall with them. Therefore, money follows test scores, independent of any other factors that may influence some schools rather than others. Consequently educators (administrators) may either collect credit for something they had no direct correlation with, or be punished for an outcome that resulted from a systemic problem rather than the personal failure of a teacher.

• "Tests provide irrefutable data about which kids are learning what, and in which classrooms." - Ron Paige, Education Secretary. Tests provide irrefutable data about what the tester valued and how much each classroom deviated from the test-writer's values. The Rand Corporation found that "50 percent to 80 percent of the improvement in a school's average scores from year to year is related to random factors rather than real gains."

• Standardized tests "give you information about the child," said Jeffrey Taylor, a senior vice-president… at the nation's largest test-scoring company. Standardized tests give you information about the child's attention, comprehension, and care that day, while providing a revenue stream to testing companies independent of the effectiveness of the test - which cannot be questioned by the people being tested.

• "…the emphasis on testing is leading teachers to steal time from the curriculum to prepare their students for the test." Why isn't it obvious that the test purports to measure a single variable when in fact it measures many variables, including how the child slept the night before or ate the morning of the test?

There is one reason to favor individual tests created at the classroom level: they expose the students who coast on their 'group process' and 'communication' skills at the expense of substantive acquisition of knowledge and data-driven reasoning. As the executive vice president of the Princeton Review, Steve Hodas, remarked: "The tests are not used as a snapshot; they are a goal."

My point exactly.

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