Reduce standardized testing to improve accountability, school quality
This was written by Monty Neill, interim executive director at The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest. Neill's argument is hardly surprising given that FairTest has long fought against high-stakes testing, but I think it makes far more sense than our current test obsession.
This is the second of three articles describing how each component would work: comprehensive school quality reviews, annual state tests in a few grades, and local assessments (next). Together, these three pillars of real reform can provide comprehensive evidence of school quality and progress, as well as richer information for teaching and school improvement efforts.
A key step is to reduce the amount of testing and lower the stakes. Federally mandated standardized testing should be cut back to what Congress required from 1994 to 2002 -- once each in elementary, middle and high school. That’s a period when school performance improved and achievement gaps narrowed faster than in the No Child Left Behind era.
Test scores should become only a small part of the equation for making decisions about schools. That would make U.S. testing more similar to the policies of many nations that outperform us on international exams and college-going rates. As the experience of these nations shows, testing every grade is simply not necessary for useful public reporting, accountability actions, or school improvement.
In fact, it is harmful. High-stakes testing produces curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test, the opposite of what our children really need. The resulting score inflation makes a mockery of “accountability.”
School “improvement” becomes more teaching to the test, perpetuating a downward spiral. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan agree current tests are low-quality – but they want to expand the use of those very tests to rank and punish teachers as well as schools.
Tests can provide some helpful information, though not enough to justify their overuse. Testing at three grade-levels would enable exams to play a reasonable role as a check on the system: If local evidence diverges significantly from state test results, an investigation would be in order.
Comprehensive school quality reviews would provide another check. Tests and reviews would be complements to the core information provided by local evidence.
If the stakes on the tests were low, as they should be, potential damage would be minimized. There would be nothing gained by narrowing curriculum or teaching to the test, because local assessments and quality reviews would look at the education of the whole child. In addition, by testing in only a few grades, states could create far better tests for less than we now spend.
Under Race to the Top, Duncan has awarded grants to two consortia of states to devise new standardized exams. The resulting tests probably will be somewhat better – but not all that much. The intense focus on constructing new tests is likely to make it more difficult to implement the assessment reforms students, teachers and our society need and deserve.
The consortia will not produce systems in which teachers can fairly, accurately and helpfully assess their students, schools get rich data for improvement, and the public and policymakers get sufficient information for accountability.
By making occasional large-scale testing one component of a comprehensive system, the dangers of testing will be substantially lowered while their limited benefits can be realized.
Reducing damage, cutting costs, and freeing time for more valuable activities, from instruction to assessment, provide more than sufficient reason to limit standardized testing to three grades.
Classroom and school-based assessments can provide sufficient accountability information in conjunction with limited testing and quality reviews.
That will be my next topic.
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| October 19, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Standardized Tests, Teacher assessment, Teachers | Tags: arne duncan, quality reviews, race to the top, school-based assessments, standardized tests, teacher assessment, teacher evaluation, testing
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