Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity


Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 10/19/2010

Reduce standardized testing to improve accountability, school quality

By Valerie Strauss

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.

By Monty Neill
Last June, I outlined a school assessment and evaluation system that should replace No Child Left Behind’s test-only structure.

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.

-0-

Follow my blog every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/answersheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | 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  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: How billionaire donors harm public education
Next: Missing from reform debate: The power of caring

Comments

Yes. This makes sense and it would be great for the students and their education in general.

However, I fear that saying "lowering the stakes" will be misinterpreted as "lowering the standards".

The "reformers" are going to accuse you of not wanting teachers to be held accountable, I predict.


Posted by: celestun100 | October 19, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Oh, they had such grand plans for public education. Fueled with the fire of the Reagan revolution they put the finishing touches on their devious campaign at the Business Roundtable education summit in 1989. Standardized testing would be their primary weapon. The tests would isolate urban schools first and bury them under public posturing for accountability. The corporate vultures from Edison Schools and the others would move in to pick up the pieces and impose their gospel, the business model. Vouchers and charter schools would even redirect public monies to the destruction of public schools.

Toxic wastes, like incessant testing and mindless data collection and merit pay plans, would be pumped into the public school environment to sicken both teachers and students. And bye and bye the privatizers would have their brave new education system to serve their global economy.

And they were so close. They had their blueprint for legally closing public schools, the No Child Left Behind Act, in place. Billionaire Bloomberg and his CEO sidekick Joel Klein were in control in New York City. Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan were strangling the Chicago Public Schools. Mayor Villariagosa and Admiral Brewer were trying to get their hands around the throats of the Los Angeles Unified Public Schools. Jeb Bush, in and out of office, was calling the shots in Florida. Bill Gates had succeeded in winning Washington D.C. for Mayor Fenty and he in turn introduced the nation to a new level of ruthlessness and brutality in the person and policies of Michelle Rhee. Eli Broad's superintendents dotted the landscape from Vallas in New Orleans to Crew in Miami, chirping over the achievement gap and with grave voices declaring "the children of Singapore are eating our kids lunch." Many of those pesky democratically elected school boards had been eliminated.

Then just as the campaign appeared ready to bear fruit, their rationale for being, their precious global economy, crashed! Their pride and joy is burning as you read. It was supposed to be immutable. It was eternal!

September 14th in DC says one thing above all else. They were wrong!

Posted by: natturner | October 19, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

I agree with everything the author of this article states. Unfortunately, I think the education agenda of this current administration is not really about high stakes testing at all. I think it is more about a concerted strategy to erode the public education system by getting rid of unions and replacing the public school system with a corporate model of education (with charter schools and superintendents who are more like CEO's). So the underlying issues really need to be addressed in the here and now as a lot of test prep and very little real education is taking place right now and teachers are being scape-goated for this in order to make way for a corporate style education. The saddest part of this is that the needs of the business world and politics are put ahead of our neediest public school students (title one schools) in order to facilitate this corporate model of education destined to fail.

Posted by: teachermd | October 19, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

And the testing is expensive also. And the money for all this testing is coming out of the pockets of the taxpayers.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 19, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't agree with this more. I do less meaningful instruction now with all the tests for which we must prepare our students today. I've got a treasure trove of projects I cannot implement because of our quarterly benchmarks, monthly assessments, Exit Exams, etc.

I've always said these tests are an affront to my professionalism; I test my students frequently and thoroughly, I don't need these to tell me what they know and can do.

Posted by: pdfordiii | October 19, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I teach at an excellent public school in Howard county. We spend at least 5 weeks giving tests during the school year. Two weeks for traditional midterms & finals, 2 weeks for A.P. exams, 1 week for state assessments, and county assessments in core courses 4 times a year. Can anyone really think we need more testing?

Posted by: sopranovcm | October 20, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I teach at an excellent public school in Howard county. We spend at least 5 weeks giving tests during the school year. Two weeks for traditional midterms & finals, 2 weeks for A.P. exams, 1 week for state assessments, and county assessments in core courses 4 times a year. Can anyone really think we need more testing?

Posted by: sopranovcm | October 20, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I teach at an excellent public school in Howard county. We spend at least 5 weeks giving tests during the school year. Two weeks for traditional midterms & finals, 2 weeks for A.P. exams, 1 week for state assessments, and county assessments in core courses 4 times a year. Can anyone really think we need more testing?

Posted by: sopranovcm | October 20, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company