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On Obama, Bush, schools and Milbank's mistake

I love the work of my colleague Dana Milbank, particularly the deeply contrarian columns he has been writing for the Sunday Opinion page. But his most recent Sunday effort took him outside of his usual territory, Washington politics, into the murky forest of national education policy, where he got lost.

His column “Obama’s school reform soulmate: George Bush,” says the current president has abandoned liberals in his own Democratic Party to push a school testing regime established by the previous Republican president. This is hurting kids, teachers and schools, Milbank says.

His words will be applauded by a minority faction of the Democratic Party, particularly the teacher unions. They have been fighting a rear-guard action for years against plans to use test score data to determine which teachers and which schools are doing the best job raising the achievement of low income students.

But a new generation of educators who cannot be described as anything but liberal will wonder where Milbank got his strange idea that measuring classroom results, and acting on them, was part of a Republican plot to “induce teachers to turn children into test-taking automatons, not the creative thinkers that have been the most valuable product of American schools.”

This is an old argument lost by the anti-testing folks long ago--and long before Bush became president in 2001.

Those creative thinkers tell their biographers that they didn’t get their big ideas until they went through years of tough study that included lot of tests, both teacher exams and the more standardized kind that won them admission to college and grad school.

Milbank cites studies showing flaws in test-driven systems, but ignores the schools where they work well. As a political reporter, Milbank already knows that campaigning against standardized tests is a loser. Just ask the last presidential candidate who tried it, Howard Dean. Office-seekers find it difficult to respond to opponents who say, “Why don’t you want to make teachers and schools accountable for good results?”

Since at least the late 1980s, the majority of Democratic and Republican legislators and executives have been reconciled to creating systems in which all children take tests and changes are made in schools that do not score well.

In 2008, I wrote that Obama and his presidential campaign opponent, Sen. John McCain, were likely to continue much of Bush's education policies.

But that doesn't mean Obama is now following the Bush formula. He is following the Clinton formula. That Democratic icon helped lead the standards movement that laid the groundwork in the 1990s for Bush to preside over the bipartisan enactment of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. The senator that got that bill passed was the liberal of all liberals, Edward M. Kennedy.

The law certainly has flaws and will eventually be replaced. Still, liberals and conservatives in Congress appear to agree that test scores will remain important in any revision of the law.

Obama, like most educators and politicians, is pushing for new kinds of assessments. Schools and teachers will be rated by each child’s individual progress, not by comparing this year’s fifth graders to last year’s fifth graders, often two very different sets of kids. I have my own doubts about rating individual teachers. I would prefer we only rate schools, so that teachers can work as a team to raise the level of all kids. But it is worth giving individual teacher assessments a try, as the District is doing.

Our most effective public schools take standardized testing seriously. Their teachers are more than willing to be measured by what the results show, as long as they have a chance to learn and improve their techniques. Some Democratic liberals are puzzled by that attitude, but the president has talked to many of those teachers who want to improve, and he is unlikely to spoil their chances to do so.

By Washington Post editors  | August 18, 2010; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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The problem with your post and Millbank's is that you each take the standardized testing argument to the extremes--either we are testing our kids to the exclusion of all other learning or any testing will prevent our childrens' creativity from truly flowing. I think the correct concern with the laser-like focus on testing right now is that it will crowd out other educational opportunities like more self-directed learning, event-centered teaching and even field trips. In DC, for example, 4 DC-BAS tests and 1 DC-CAS test plus other evaluations like DIBELS, plus, for certain kids, NAEP, are administered, prepped for and analyzed every year. That does not mean we should abandon testing, just that it needs to be placed in the proper context, as a measure of learning, not as the method of learning.

Posted by: horacemann | August 18, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Jay, have you ever taken a test such as the SAT? Have you ever taken a standardized test that was given by the classroom teacher? What is the difference between the two?

If you answered something to the effect of "I had to go to a designated location to take the SAT, which was administered by an outside examiner; but the classroom test was just given by my teacher," you'd be correct.

When I was a child, the standardized test was just passed out one day and the teacher read the instructions from the test booklet. Next the booklet was collected and soon we saw our scores. So far as I remember, the teacher did not "prepare" us for the test by drilling on specific items. In my day that was called "cheating." In college we were told that this type of "preparation" invalidated the test.

That was before the days of "high-stakes" testing. Now those booklets are sometimes "chewed and digested" by the teacher before she administers the test. Many (most, I hope) teachers still give the test as directed, thereby preserving its integrity. Other teachers, terrified of looking bad, invalidate the test by drilling the students on the exact items.

I am not speaking for other teachers, but this is my main objection to these tests. If they are going to be "high-stakes" and used to evaluate teachers, they must be (1) designed for that purpose and (2) professionally administered and proctored.

Jay, as an education journalist, surely you must know what's going on with these tests. Cheating and "gaming the system" are reported almost daily.

In conclusion, the public has a right to information from these tests; but teachers have a right to demand their validity and reliability. Ensuring validity is extremely expensive, but if a state can't afford to secure a test, then it can't afford to give it.

Milbank was right: Obama has championed the worst part of the Bush agenda and this will accomplish little more than putting huge amounts of tax dollars into the pockets of testing companies. They are the real winners here.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 18, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Ah, labels and innuendo again, Jay.

You imply that teacher unions are anti-test and therefore anti-high standards. The AFT history for thirty years proves that wrong so why do you still scapegoat them? Name these anti-test folks you keep refering to.
Your so-called creative thinkers in their bios, according to you, have no other reasons or experiences in school to attribute their alleged successes later in life than lots of testing. I'm willing to bet their "creativity" had very little to do with most of their school experiences of thirty-fifty years ago. (Those of bio age.)

A strictly test-driven education system will turn out well-rounded and questioning/examining students? Hardly. It's all the other factors of a school experience that make that. Too bad public discourse in the media seldom acknowleges that.

Office-seekers are by far the least able people today to make well-informed and intelligent discussion and debate on education. Telling truth to voters is not the politically-expedient way. They can't win elections if they tell parents and a community that they have the largest responsibility to raise and educate a child. "Good results" is so subjective a term as to be meaningless. Teachers can never do it alone so stop scapegoating them. "Testing is not Teaching" - stop making it the end-all and be-all.

Then there is the label-throwing of liberal and conservative. There are so many people within each category who have much more complex and nuanced opinions and experiences than can be reduced to these polarizing phrases. There is no us and them, only us! We all are in the same boat here on earth so get to work!

The current adminstration in Washington brings the issue of education very much to the forefront for change, thank you very much. But when it ignores the best research and advice from the majority of experts, especially the teachers themselves, it will become a dismal mess with very limited success at best. When an expert like Diane Ravitch honestly changes her opinions because the facts support it, why cannot political decision-makers do likewise?

You do acknowledge that teachers would work better in situations of collaboration and support. Why you cannot see that the testing drive in its current manifestation is wrong is rather baffling to so many of the bloggers here.

Most teachers in this country have been evaluated for years, it's not something new. They have always supported high standards and work together for every child's success. That is the real and very operable mode of accountability, not numbers on an answer sheet. Those who understand nothing but numbers are grossly out of touch and should not be in charge of change, whether so-called liberal or conservative.

We will keep working on you Jay, count on that!

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | August 18, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I am not an expert...and only an art teacher. But, I could not disagree more with the premise of this article, Jay. Multiple choice, high stake testing is affecting creativity. The kids I teach, and I teach 1/2 of all students in my school, cannot think or problem solve and far too many want simple solutions to everything. They have developed the bubble-sheet mentality and adopted the computer-has-all-the-answers 21st Century skills.

There was recently a study conducted that shows the creative thinking and problem-solving skills of kids have been declining since 1992.(Sorry, I can't remember where this study can be found.)

I understand the need for standardized testing, but when passing a test becomes the only tool for learning, it is any wonder our graduation rates are declining?

In my school division, teachers don't have access to the booklets, but
the curriculum is designed and written just to pass Standard of Learning tests. The curriculum pacing is structured so all the material is covered by the teacher...doesn't matter whether the students have mastered it. If teacher's try to introduce something outside of the mandated curriculum, we are reprimanded.

How can anyone with any common sense think this is a good idea?

And testing is a tool. Critics of those of us who are skeptical of the value of high-stakes testing act like kids are never graded or tested. Don't these kids receive report cards? What good is a test if it is not reviewed and the student doesn't understand why and what they missed? Where does that fit into "good practices?"

Posted by: ilcn | August 18, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate these good comments, but I wonder if llcn has any data showing that students were any more quick to problem solve in the past. On balance, I think our schools do more projects and focus more on problem solving than they did before. And for horacemann, the schools and teachers I am talking about who take testing seriously, and would reject the notion it is limiting, also have more field trips and self-directed learning than typical schools. I realize it makes sense to think this is a zero-sum game, and if you take testing seriously you don't have time for other stuff, but that is not what I am seeing in schools that work.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 18, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse


Agreed re: school that work, but what about the schools that don't work and are operating in an environment where the sword over their heads is test scores. Convincing those schools that problem solving, field trips and experiencial learning are worthy endeavors rather than test prep rallies, extra drills and the dreaded BCR seems unreasonable when all the focus is on the test.

Posted by: horacemann | August 18, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse


Please use your influence to make certain these tests are (1) different each year (2) administered by an outside agency (3) are not handled by any school personnel. If you suggested these changes, it would be interesting to see who would object to them. My guess is that the most pushback would come from the charter schools, but I could be wrong.

If the students just spent one or two days on these tests and the teachers didn't know what was on them or when they were going to be administered, that would put an immediate end to all the deadly test prep, as well as the misleading scores. The tests should be based on a good curriculum, which the teachers WOULD know.

I am just asking for valid tests. Can we all agree with this?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 18, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

This is really for Linda / Retired Teacher.
If Milbank was playing on the wrong field, surely, Jay you can show a valid pass to visit one: venture into the world of K-12 interscholastic athletics, where the test, ie. the outcome of the competition, is so important that students drill year-round to gain and maintain proficiency; and very specific regulations must be put in place to LIMIT the incidence and prevalence of team practice. Not that such rules offer much protection from chastisements and banishment to student athletes who do not engage in off-season conditioning and strength training "on their own."
How about it Jay, a new adventure for the veteran education journalist, in another kind of high-stakes testing, where the final score of every game / test is highly reliable, teacher-coaches are hired and fired by the numbers, and there have to be regulations to try to protect students from the monster that has been created and nurtured, all for accountability?

Posted by: incredulous | August 18, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

for incredulous-it is a splendid idea, but raises turf issues at the paper. i will explore. for Linda/Retired Teacher--I know some stuff I cant talk about yet that suggests you are pointing in a direction that will become increasingly important.
for horacemann---you raise exactly the right question. the solution is intelligent and energetic leaders of each school, appointed by intelligent and energetic superintendents. My Monday column is on that subject. I think most urban districts are moving in that direction, but much much more slowly than i would like, with lotsa stumbles, like in Atlanta recently, and in DC too. Particularly DC since the people in charge want the kind of schools you and i want, but they are not getting there very quickly, and some of the measures they are taking may turn out to be self-defeating.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 18, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse


What a relief it is to know that you are aware of this problem and plan to do something about it.

I am one teacher who is definitely not against testing but the current frenzied teaching to the test, teaching the test and just plain cheating has to stop.


Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 18, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Jay - regarding Milbank's column -- reading the comments there suggests that the people for standardized testing the way Obama and Duncan want to use it are not Obama's typical supporters.

Here are my top-of-mind impressions:

There are the usual Obama-haters who oppose everything he does -- but not this education plan!

There are some more level headed conservatives who are delighted that finally Obama's doing something that makes sense.

And then there's a bunch of Democrats expressing their total disgust with Obama and hoping he'll come to his senses. They are grateful to Milbank making this statement.

Obama will never have the support of the first two groups and is losing the support of the last group.

Posted by: efavorite | August 18, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

for efavorite---we must be connecting with very different circles of democrats. most of the ones I know are educators, very pushy ones, about a third have doubts about using testing for individual measures, and prefer obama pushed more school based measures and more focus on finding and training good principals. the rest think the testing debate is irrelevant to their days of raising achievement for kids, and assume they will have a similar testing regime for some time, and can adjust to changes. they want the administration to focus on more money to start more schools like theres.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 18, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

As I noted in my post on Milbank's column (, he is exactly right in saying that "Test obsession won’t help the bad schools, and it will wreck the good ones" because it's already happening. Unfortunately, Milbank spends most of his words on the politics of the issue as does Jay.

However, saying that almost all the politicians believe we should turn schools into test prep academies does not make it valid national policy. We need to design and implement instructional programs that are educationally sound for each student, and not just politically easy to explain in 10 second sound bites. More in my post:

Posted by: tstahmer | August 18, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I am not against reasonable amounts of testing, but I read the same article that icln did and am in agreement; I am assuming that he/she has been a professionally trained art teacher as I encountered the same experiences during my teaching and have an MA in Art Ed. His/her views should have some validity just because of the training and experience, not just because of other data, anyway.

The following is an excerpt I selected from
Dana Milbank's article and my response to it:

"There's nothing wrong with testing, but when you use tests to determine pay and job security, you inevitably induce teachers to turn children into test-taking automatons, not the creative thinkers that have been the most valuable product of American school."
Thank you, Dana Milbank!

Sec. Arne Duncan is in way over his head, and I fear that Pres. Obama's rigidity in this area is not allowing him to listen and process what other experts are saying.

For myself, having taught Art, Music and on occasion Spanish, (over a period of 28 years), I have to say that I am horrified by the stifling,rigid,and unimaginative curriculum that is being foisted upon our developing citizens. Innovative ideas do not come from students chained in lockstep made to just parrot their elders. And if we ever needed creative thinking it is now.

When a true "Renaissance" takes place, it is accompanied by all kinds of wonderful transformations from all walks of life - the arts, social sciences, philosophy, medicine, writing, etc. etc.

Instead, we are investing more and more into our military industrial complex, electronic gear, mindless advertising, and often repetitive talk that passes for the news these days.

We know what works for students: small classes, safe and comfortable learning environments, well-trained educators,supportive parents,extra support for at-risk students and a challenging, meaningful and enriched curriculum.

We have yet to produce the national will to implement these things. Until we do, you can test all you want, and our students will still be found wanting.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | August 18, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Yes, indeed, Jay – you and I are connecting with a different set of Democrats. Please reread my post and you will see I'm referring to my impressions of the comments on Milbank's article - of ultra-conservatives, conservatives and democrats. Anyone can go to those comments and form their own impressions based on what they read there.

You are referring to your own undocumented conversations with liberal democrats. It’s hard to compare the two sets of information, because one is in black and white and the other is in your mind.

Posted by: efavorite | August 18, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Here's a link to a Newsweek article on an alleged "creativity crisis".

My comments are addressed to the other commenters more than to Jay. Most of you seem to have some connection to the education establishment so I'm going to give you the viewpoint on this issue of an “early sixties liberal democrat union member retired state worker computer programmer and failed internet cafe owner”.
1)Despite the expenditures of large sums of money the public primary and secondary schools in this country haven't been meeting the educational needs of its students or society at large, for years. Students entering college from high school frequently aren't ready for college work and students entering the workforce aren't ready to work or to even learn to work.
2)A lot of the failure to meet these needs seems to be coming from shortcomings in poorly performing school districts, schools, and individual teachers.
3)The society at large has been telling the education establishment for years that this situation was not going to be allowed to go on for ever, but as far as I can tell until recently there was no real attempt made by the education establishment to meaningfully reform, particularly in urban school districts where it has been needed the most.
4)Society at large has finally made the determination that we now want these poorly performing school districts, schools, and teachers identified and helped to perform at a higher level or removed. The starting point, BUT NOT ENDING POINT, for doing this is going to be the administration of standardized tests – and if the education establishment doesn'tt like it - TOUGH LUCK. It's completely possible to design and administer standardized tests in a manner that will more than adequately perform this task without jeopardizing other education goals. If this doesn't happen to peoples satisfaction then the tests and the way they're administered should be improved, not eliminated. As the old saying goes, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And by the way administering standardized texts accounts for 1-2% of an average schools budget and salaries and benefits for teachers and teacher aides accounts for 60-70%, so I think the money is well spent.
5)In addition to these types of standardized tests society at large has decided that we want there to be some competition to traditional public schools, since we think a big part of the reason you haven't reformed is because you had no real competition. We've decided that we want this to be in the form of Charter Schools, rather than Vouchers, which is what the right wing really wanted. If the educational establishment doesn't want Charter Schools then how about Vouchers instead?
6)If you people can't persuade somebody like me to your point of view, somebody who would normally be one of your natural allies, you better give it up and get with the program.

Posted by: david_r_fry | August 18, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

david_r_fry says: "2)A lot of the failure to meet these needs seems to be coming from shortcomings in poorly performing school districts, schools, and individual teachers"

This is the fallacy that ruins the rest of your argument. You assume, without knowing and without making any attempt to prove it, that the main problem is "poorly performing school districts, schools, and individual teachers" without considering that the family, poverty or other issues outside school could be the main problem.

Posted by: efavorite | August 18, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

we must be connecting with very different circles of democrats. most of the ones I know are educators, very pushy ones, about a third have doubts about using testing for individual measures, and prefer obama pushed more school based measures and more focus on finding and training good principals. the rest think the testing debate is irrelevant to their days of raising achievement for kids, and assume they will have a similar testing regime for some time, and can adjust to changes.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 18, 2010 7:20 PM

Agreed Mr. Mathews.

As you know PGCPS is ranking at the bottom. Residents are demanding change as it relates to increased levels of performance and productivity re PGCPS.

When MSA/HSAs are administered, specific personnel (outside of the school) administer and supervise the tests. There isn't opportunity for cheating and scores are publicly transparent. The tests are administered/collected by the same "gatekeeper". No preview provided by anyone within school buildings to include principals/teachers.

Our ES and HS are positively progressing. Our MS not doing so well. And it's not primarily because of parent involvement because we are.

Standardized testing allows snapshot of student progress. If the test taking data is used as it should be (where in many education jurisdiction it is not) it could actually be beneficial.

There is no excuse for a student in HS reading at ES levels.

There is no excuse for a student not having the ability to perform basic math functions.

There is no excuse for a student not having the ability to complete a job application because of inabilities to read or write simple sentences without misspelling and/or full with grammitical errors.

There is no excuse for the high percentage of students required to take remedial math, science and language arts courses upon entrance in college.

And because of this, every candidate from State to Local levels are highlighting their goals to improve our school system. That's the part I find truly interesting. Where were they before campaign season?

I just wish for the day when the powers that be stop screwing up and screwing around with these kids and their future.

For those who feel Obama or his administration don't have a handle on education issues, pick up the latest edition of Ebony magazine. He's reaching out to all publication venues to engage the minority community.

It all has to starts from the bottom up but not forgetting about the students in the middle.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | August 18, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse


"grammatical errors"

Posted by: PGCResident1 | August 18, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

final comment,

this "teaching to the test" scenario seems without merit.

If teachers were "teaching to the test" please explain why so many students still fail the same test teachers are supposedly teaching toward?

Posted by: PGCResident1 | August 18, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse


I was hoping you'd win me over on this column. I'll vote for Obama regardless, even though I despise his gratuitious attacks on teachers. I'm afraid Dems will pay for it. Is there any doubt after the Times named names that Obama is listening to the teacher-bashers. If Duncan would just apologize about his remarks on naming names in LA ... Its weird in they give us money while using us a whipping boys.

But Obama doesn't realize he's worsening the educational Battle Royal. Education's civl war has denegerated into a bunch of blindfolded progressives and advocates of civil rights punching each other.

"Milbank cites studies showing flaws in test-driven systems, but ignores the schools where they work well"

What schools are you talking about?

Come on, if we're going to back out of this mess, we need to get back to a simpler day when words had meaning. You couldn't believe what you said could you?

As I've said, someday we may need the tens of billions that was wasted by NCLB I and II. Obama proposes to continue the same old fratricidal policies in the name of accountability so he can sound tough.

Posted by: johnt4853 | August 18, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

I said "a lot of the failure", not "all of the failure". I'm probably already taking up more space than I deserve, so I'm not going to take up more of it trying to provide proof for a qualified statement that shouldn't need to be proven in a venue like this. As far as "considering that the family, poverty or other issues outside school could be the main problem" I am well aware that's a problem, as is practically everybody else who's interested in our kids education. I'm not sure how that fits in with Obama's School Reform initiatives, but in the last year or so in the school district I'm most familiar with(Albany New York) the school district has started to move away from their prior "send us students who are ready to learn" attitude to at long last accepting the fact that it is in a unique position to be right at the center of support for each child in need:
The following is a list of some of the agencies that have established presences in full-service community resource centers at most of the districts larger schools (the high school, middle schools, and several of the larger grade schools)
* Albany County Department of Children, Youth and Families
* Albany County Probation Department
* Albany County System of Care
* Albany Police Department
* City of Albany Department of Youth and Workforce Services
* Committee for Safe and Substance Free Schools
* Families Together of Albany County
* Parsons Child and Family Center
* University of Albany School of Social Welfare

This is something that wouldn't have happened until recently. It looks like the Albany City School District has finally seen the light. Hopefully this "full court press", along with fixing the bad teacher problem, will show positive results soon. If it does the High School may be able to stay in existence and keep Jay's precious AP and IB courses, and keep their undeserved(up until now)place on Jay's list of the top public High Schools. If it doesn't work its going to be curtains for Albany High School as a traditional public high school. Whether or not it works, of course, is going to be determined by how they do on standardized tests.

Posted by: david_r_fry | August 19, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

"But it is worth giving individual teacher assessments a try, as the District is doing."

Why does this have worth?

"Our most effective public schools take standardized testing seriously."
Name names, Jay

"Their teachers are more than willing to be measured by what the results show, as long as they have a chance to learn and improve their techniques. Some Democratic liberals are puzzled by that attitude, but the president has talked to many of those teachers who want to improve, and he is unlikely to spoil their chances to do so."

How can he spoil their chances?
They've been doing it before he can along.
And is this what is done at Sidwell Friends?

Posted by: edlharris | August 19, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

"When MSA/HSAs are administered, specific personnel (outside of the school) administer and supervise the tests. There isn't opportunity for cheating and scores are publicly transparent. The tests are administered/collected by the same "gatekeeper". No preview provided by anyone within school buildings to include principals/teachers."

That is incorrect, PGResident1.
Atleast with MSA, the teacher administers the test to his/her class.
There is one proctor in the room with the classroom teacher.
The proctor is usually one of the specialists (Art, PE, Music, Library Media etc.) or another classroom teacher whose class isn't taking the test.

Now the NAEP test, which will be given this year, will be administered by people from outside the school building.

Posted by: edlharris | August 19, 2010 1:11 AM | Report abuse

No, you're incorrect edlharris.

I've personally witnessed what you call "proctors" administer the MSA tests. Several parents that I know have witnessed the same as well. And we are very familiar with the teachers and staff at our schools. Maybe this didn't occur at the school(s) your familiar with, but these "proctors" did administer student MSA/HSAs.

But the fact remains, "teaching to the test" doesn't seem to have merit because the kids aren't showing real progress as it relates to profiency levels increasing and achievement gaps closing.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | August 19, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Jay, as a DCPS parent I would prefer that teachers take learning seriously. The test doesn't really mean quite as much and the nonstop testing drill (4 BAS, 1 CAS, endless DIBELS) is destroying my child's love of learning.

PGResident, I agree that HS graduates should be able fill out a job application without a spelling or grammatical error.

Jay, when I sat on a principal search committee in June one of the resumes offered up had a spelling error. One had a typo. One applicant had never taught or led an elementary school and based on his resume, the last time he had spent a full day in an elementary school was when he was eleven years old. I'm sorry, but a resume is not an email message or a posting on the comments section of the WaPo. The fact that these principal candidates lacked the skill and/or care to proof their own resumes says something significant about the sort of leadership Michelle Rhee is attracting to DCPS.

All three of these individuals are now leading a District of Columbia Public School.

I hope you'll discuss this in your Monday article. You might also want to discuss what leaders have departed under Rhee.

There is more to leading a school than being intelligent and energetic. Experience counts too and I'm very, very unhappy about what happened at my child's school.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | August 19, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

One aspect of "teaching to the test" is only giving tests that follow the standardized, multiple-choice format so that student have a lot of experience with this sort of test. Textbooks are prepared this way, sometimes with explanations in the teacher's notes as to what to tell the students--rule out the obviously wrong, etc.

The second aspect of "teaching to the test" is that there is no time to do anything but stumble through the recommended curriculum. The local historical society used to provide speakers to tell elementary school classes a little about the history of the community--give them a brief description of the people the streets were named after, show them pictures of what the location of their school used to look like, etc. The society also has acquired a history center with exhibits such as clothing, high school graduation pictures (including many of the current students' parents). This center is within walking distance of two elementary schools, and much closer than the park they walk to for their end-of-school picnic. But the historical society has been told the curriculum no longer has time for extras that aren't on the standardized tests.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | August 19, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

The classroom teachers administered the MSA at the school I work at, nor at the schools where I know a few staff members.

It would be interesting to find out why that did not happen at your school.
Are the teachers not Highly Qualified?
Was the school under watch for previous problems with test administration?
Or did they hired people to do this? If so, where did the money come from?

Please find out.
It would be interesting to know.


Posted by: edlharris | August 19, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate these good comments, but I wonder if llcn has any data showing that students were any more quick to problem solve in the past.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 18, 2010 3:02 PM


Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

for efavorite---we must be connecting with very different circles of democrats.






POSTED BY: JAY MATHEWS | August 18, 2010 7:20 PM

Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews: My school division takes testing very seriously, but, if, as you say, good schools use field trips as an incentive for promoting creative thinking...then we fail your test because they have virtually cut field trips off and all field trips that are approved must be curriculum specific..and the instructional curriculum is SOL specific.

Next...I don't have any personnal data other than my own experience of teaching for 30 years. I do have to chuckle at your request since it is a perfect example of why high stakes testing and over-reliance of data is ruining public education. We want kids to do well in math, but as adults we can't figure out that high stakes testing + an over reliance on technology is preventing these kids from developing creative problem-solving skills and self-reliance. It doesn't take an PhD in quantitative analysis to figure that out.

But I would refer you to Tony Wagner, Harvard University Dept of Education, as one reference. Then I would also suggest you google "Creative thinking skills in U.S. students," and you will find a phlethora of information, not just from educators but, from employers who complain that the one problem with younger, new hires today is their lack of critical and creative thinking skills.

My school division recognizes this fallacy, and is currently implementing a new focus (I was a member of this strategic plan committee)...away from standardized testing, more written tests with a curriculum that will focus on creative problem-solving and the development of critical thinking skills. We'll see how it works...but I am hopeful we succeed.

We can not keep testing these kids...there is a reason the graduation rate is falling...and my bet is on the increased emphasis on testing and mandated curriculum...preventing too many of these kids from taking what they need to be successful in life (and I don't mean just the 3 r's.)

Too many so-called experts treat testing as the magic bullet. But, testing is about adults...we need to return the focus on "what is in the best interest's of kids"...and treat every kid like he/she is special...not just a number at the top of a bubble sheet.

Someone here used the example of a sports team...well the classroom is an academic team...with one coach, and in elementary school's, many subjects. For a single sports team there are multiple coaches to teach kids how to throw, kick, or hit a THAT define's our priorities.

Posted by: ilcn | August 19, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

"Our most effective public schools take standardized testing seriously. Their teachers are more than willing to be measured by what the results show, as long as they have a chance to learn and improve their techniques."







Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews: My school division takes testing very seriously,

Posted by: ilcn | August 19, 2010 12:24 PM




POSTED BY: JAY MATHEWS | August 18, 2010


Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse






Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

One tires of this exercise since almost all of the articles of Jay Mathews are deliberate distortions and lies.

The columns of Jay Mathews are simply the yellow journalism that at one time was so prevalent in this nation. At that time journalists were not expected to provide information. They were simply expected to play upon the popular beliefs and conceptions of the readers. It did not matter if there was truth in these beliefs or conception.

Jay Mathews is simply a throw back to this time.

Jay Mathews probably does not even have any real feelings about unions of teachers. Jay Mathews is simply willing to use the public belief of unions as evil, just as he willing to use the public belief that lazy teachers are the cause of failing students. Jay Mathews is simply a limited journalist that has to survive by revising the yellow journalism of the past.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse


Would you spend a week in a DC public school classroom???

I am not asking you to make all the students in the classroom pass standardized tests. All I ask is you make them sit down and quietly listen to you talk about the importance of education. Make your lesson fun! And make sure all the students turn in a short essay at the end of the week.

That's it! so simple! If you can survive without being hit by a flying water bottle. Good for you!!

Posted by: salukiindc | August 19, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I'd suggest Jay go to Stanton Elementary, but DCOPS is not running it this year.

Posted by: edlharris | August 19, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Would you spend a week in a DC public school classroom???
Posted by: salukiindc

I'd suggest Jay go to Stanton Elementary, but DCOPS is not running it this year.
Posted by: edlharris
Jay Mathews is not concerned with public education. He is only concerned with picking up his paycheck for the next year.

"His words will be applauded by a minority faction of the Democratic Party, particularly the teacher unions."

Jay Mathews will get his paycheck by his continuous pretence that all those that oppose the ideas of Ms. Rhee and the Secretary of Education are only the hated evil unions of teachers, and the members of the professional left of the Democratic party.

"But a new generation of educators who cannot be described as anything but liberal"

Only Jay Mathews could pretend that Ms. Rhee and the Secretary of Education should be considered as liberals.

The articles of Jay Mathews may in time be considered for classes of Journalism in regard to examples of yellow journalism but they have nothing to offer in regard to public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Jay- your default position always goes to the profoundly ignorant belief that high test scores are evidence of a good quality education. Sometimes it appears that you are beginning to look at the bigger picture, but then you revert to your original position as if you had never heard of any anything else or learned anything new.

It's like a version of "Ground Hog Day" in which there is no forward progress but the same thing happens over and over.

Posted by: aed3 | August 19, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Good comments, although I hope those who read the posts by bsallamack realize he is making up many of those comments he attributes to me. That is okay, of course. Bsallamack is a faithful reader, and that is all I ask.

I think the discussion of proctors is very important, and merits further reporting and discussion.

For edlharris, johnt4853 and others who asked me to be more specific about what effective and test-conscious schools I was talking about, my apologies for not doing so. I originally wrote this column at the last minute for the paper, which limits my words, but they didn't have space for it. I am talking about schools like Marshall Fundamental High in Pasadena, Calif., Hillsdale High in San Mateo, Calif., YES College Prep in Houston, the Preuss charter school in La Jolla, Calif., Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Ill., Annandale High in Fairfax County, Wakefield High in Arlington, most of the KIPP charter schools around the country and an assortment of other schools that I have been able to follow closely throughout the years.

I like the suggestion that I spend a week in a DC elementary classroom. I have spent a lot of time in DC schools over the years, including some time at Dunbar High this year, much time at Shaw Middle School in 2008-2009, several years of weekly visits to Spingarn High, a year of heavy exposure to C.W. Harris Elementary in DC, and many hours at the KIPP DC KEY academy. And thankfully many fine teachers have shared with me what they have seen and experienced at several other schools. One teacher's detailed account will be the focus of a column in a couple of weeks. Many of my stories and columns, and all of my books on education, have been based on close observation of teachers in action. I long ago decided that was the best way to cover schools, and should take precedence over school board meetings and superintendent press conferences.

Posted by: jaymathews | August 19, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

It is true that everything on the state tests is necessary - it's all skills and knowledge that children need to be successful.

The flaw in NCLB, our national attitude, and Jay's column, is to assume that the questions on the tests are sufficient.

"Necessary" and "sufficient" are NOT the same thing. Great schools do both. Mediocre schools do one. Poor schools do neither. Unfortunately, we do not have a system in place for measuring anything beyond the bare minimum, so people assume that nothing else matters.

Our children are more than just a standardized test score. It would be wonderful if, rather than simply being critical all the time, writers like Jay Matthews would spend some time in a school that has BOTH strong test scores AND strong creativity and community, perhaps in spite of demographic challenges, and give us an example of what works well.

Posted by: mdennis74 | August 19, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse


I liked the groundhog day comment. Just when I think I'm understanding what you are saying then I get befuddled. Originally on this post (granted I was skimming) I thought you were just rattling peoples' chains. Then I realized you were serious about what you were saying about standardized tests. Then you made a comment that made me reread your post thinking I'd missed something. But you seemed serious so I made my comment. Given my assumption you were making a serious argument - one I didn't understand but serious - I assumed you were talking about school SYSTEMS not individual schools.

I'll check the schools you cite. But don't you realize you just undercut your argument. teachers work for school systems. I've got no doubt that seven schools have had success using standardized tests. I wouldn't be surprised if seven systems have had success. I wouldn't even be surprised if 7% of teachers had success with standardized tests. I might even know seven teachers that support standardized test ... no that would be pushing it. I might know seven educators of any sort who think standardized tests do more good than harm.

I'm still unaware of of a single SYSTEM that has used standardized testing to drive reform. (I've read the stuff about Ysleta size districts, but they don't face suburban flight)

In the meantime, what urban SYSTEM has used standardized tests in a way that has done more good than harm?

Posted by: johnt4853 | August 19, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

For mdennis74--I like yr suggestion. That was exactly what my last book was about. I hope you have a chance to read it: Work Hard. Be Nice. My reporting has, in most cases, been very positive. This column was atypical for me. Most of my columns and books delve into the best examples of teaching, and my annual ratings of high schools in Newsweek recognize the best examples of challenging courses in high school.

For johnt4853---another great question. I have read reports that suggest that some whole systems are doing well in using standardized tests in ways that have done more harm than good, and I know at least three systems that I can vouch for, having watched their schools closely for 13 years--those would be the school districts of Fairfax and Arlington Counties in VA and Montgomery County in MD. If you google me and Montgomery county a column I wrote about a detailed book that examined the success of the Montgomery system, and Jerry Weast's use of test scores to raise low income student achievement, will pop up. The Broad Foundation has done the most interesting work lately identifying whole systems that work, and I have read their reports, but I am reluctant to do much with them in the column, or put them on my list, because I havent done much reporting in them myself. Among the systems the Broad people say would meet yr criteria are Boston, Long Beach, Calif., and New York City. Even with the recent drop in NYC scores, I think I would endorse that one, having read many reports about schools there and spent a lot of time at the KIPP schools that were encouraged by that system.

Posted by: jaymathews | August 19, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Jay--From what I read daily in our teachers' discussion board in MCPS, the teachers in Montgomery County don't agree with you. The system purports to be data driven. The problem is they are so concerned with data that many of us end up being pressured to display data for its own sake. The big wigs like to see it during their "walk throughs." Sadly we often have to do this in lieu of engaging in truly meaningful instruction just so that we can post some sort of data--whether meaningful or not. There was an excellent piece in the Post this week about data informed vs. data driven. Data informed = good. Data driven = not so good.

Posted by: musiclady | August 19, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

We are talking past each other. I just checked your seven cites, and I have no idea how they are revelent to the challenges we have been making. And your above answers are even more confusing. Obviously we aren't discussing the same thing.

when were Fairfax, Arlington, and Montgomery County schools broken? You are talking about some of the best schools in the world. Yes, they have AP, but I don't think anyone is thinking about AP when they talk about data-driven accountability. I noticed one school had a water polo team. I don't think anyone plans to use water polo to drive turnarounds.

I'm glad you have doubts about Broad. I carefully read and reread their body of work when our 90% poor district got a superintendent from Montgomery County and the Broad school. He kept saying he understood the difference between a poor district and Montgomery County, but then he'd say that Montgomery County had more poor kids that the entire OKC district. Needless to say, someone that clueless didn't last long, but he still did a lot of harm in six months. Its sad because he was smart and committed but he didn't know what he didn't know about poor schools. and he was a good sport and finished second behind me in the Buffalo chip throwing contest, even though he used a plastic glove. Still he didn't freak over throwing chips into the wind, but then again he hadn't known what Buffalo crap was like and what happened when you throw it into the wind.

Boston is typically cited as the opposite of the the approach that you advocate, so again I want to know where you are coming from. Besides, I never thought of Boston as being broken. By coincidence the great Boston Super Payzant didn't last long in Oklahoma City either. But that wasn't his fault. When he came down South in 1979, I bet he thought he was coming to a democracy. Just kidding - mostly. But maybe this is the point.

The issue is critical masses of generational poverty. We have a lot of excellence in America. We have a lot of systems that have been producing excellence for generations. The challenge is how do you turn around the systems that have been victimized by generations of oppression and poverty. And I'm not denying that KIPP has inidivual successes. I'm asking whether you have ever heard of a SYSTEM (especially one that is subject to suburban flight) who has used test driven accountability to turn itself around? Have you ever heard of a SYSTEM where standardized test driven accountability (not AP, not IB, not water polo, not small learning communities, but CRTs) in a way that didn't cause more harm than good?

Posted by: johnt4853 | August 19, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Jay, we all know you've been in clasrooms - the suggestion is for you to TEACH in a classroom.

Posted by: efavorite | August 19, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm not an educator, but even I didn't have to do an internet search to get an answer to your question. When Bloomberg took over the New York City Department of Education in about 2002 a rigorous system of test driven tracking and accountability was implemented, and as a consequence the performance of the schools in NYC have improved on almost every measure. Of course there were many other changes made at the same time, including an aggressive program of promoting Charter Schools and Special Magnet Schools, but if you hold true to type you probably oppose those too. I'm almost 100% certain there are many other school districts that have made similar gains. Can you give me the names of some districts that have implemented a system of test driven accountability where there is hard data that show that the testing did more harm than good? Please don't give me examples that don't have some sort of real objective data proving your point.

Posted by: david_r_fry | August 20, 2010 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Nice try david r fry, but the gains that NY has been touting have recently been proved to be an illusion. Read about it in the NY Times. It's good stuff. I wish Rhee and Duncan would consider reading about it as well.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | August 20, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

POSTED BY: JAY MATHEWS | August 18, 2010"
Posted by: bsallamack | August 19, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Why bother, bsallamak? This is just another worthless piece (deliberate distortion) by Jay Mathews. LMAO!

Posted by: lacy41 | August 20, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm probably wasting my time...but, I am skeptical of all these organizations and foundations that recognize educational excellence. I teach in a large, suburban Va district and one of our high schools was recently awarded $25,000 for improving the eductional access and graduation rates for low income, at-risk students. Well...they didn't make AYP because of low graduation rates...the lowest, if not next to the lowest in the district.

The Broad award was given to Norfolk public schools about 6/7 years ago and it has recently been discovered that they are/have been heavily involved in questionable testing practices with poor decion-making by Principals. They were also touted in a 90 90 90 Schools: A Case Study ( It investigated low performing schools and how they improved standardized test scores).

Then we have NTSB certified teachers. The ones I know who have received this recognition an extra money are just average, at best.

But the one I like the best is the annual Teacher of the Year. NOT. It is a popularity contest, for the most part, and has little to do with best practices and student achievement and overall contribution to the education community.

I guess my point is, we are running around trying to find the panacea for what ails public schools and in the process are promoting practices and results that are public relations initiatives and nothing more...not actual programs and strategies that will help students achieve the goals we all want them to reach.

What we need is a real, organized initiative to expose what many teachers and others recognize to be the obstacles to reform. To wash away the b.s. and get to the crux of the issues. But I am not optimistic.

There are good schools and bad schools everywhere...there are good teachers and bad teachers hold all teachers and all schools hostage to the results of a series of tests is absurd. my kid's high school, they have both AP and IB. It was listed on Jay's top public schools list. But many AP teachers stop teaching after the May AP exams and show movies the rest of the year. The IB program is begging for students because many drop out...and many who graduate find that the colleges they were told they could get into put them on the "wait list."

Posted by: ilcn | August 20, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

You are so right. Too many awards turn out to be tainted by cheating and manipulation. Teacher of the Year awards ore often the most ridiculous. I've seen it given to those who truly merit it, but more often than not, it's a popularity contest. At one school where I worked, people often declined the award because of all the extra paperwork that went with sending the application to the district level contest. Once we gave it to someone who wasn't a particularly great teacher, but she was always bragging and showboating. It was a joke.

As for the Broad prize, Blue Ribbon awards, all that stuff is nothing more than fiddling with numbers and getting a good writer to put a politically correct slant on a school. I know this from experience. Sometimes I question my own motives because I've helped write applications for schools that have won.

Posted by: aed3 | August 20, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Nice Try. You didn't provide a link to what you're referring to, but I assume you're referring to some NY Times articles referring to recent changes in the way that New York State constructs and grades some of its STANDARDIZED TESTS. I looked at several, here's a link to one of them
The article doesn't claim that the improvements in NYC(and in the rest of the state) are an illusion(IMPROVEMENTS IN NYC ARE NOT AN ILLUSION!!!), just that they are not not as good as advertised. In fact to a large extent the state used STANDARDIZED TESTS to help uncover the fact that some of the standardized tests in the past were probably too easy. I think the last paragraph in the article sums things up nicely
'“It’s devastating how they presented it and how they are doing it,” said James A. Williams, the Buffalo superintendent. “This is moving the goal line. While we were running for a touchdown and we were at the 10-yard line, they moved the goal post 20 yards forward.”'
To an extent this is a fair description of what actually happened, but unfortunately for educators who don't want to be held accountable, this sort of thing is going to keep happening as we move forward with needed education reforms. Making sure that tests are measuring what they're suppose to be measuring in a uniform, reliable,and valid manner across time and geographic areas is going to be an ongoing process. These standardized tests are performing an important function that has no currently available PROVEN alternative. I personally know of one case where a teacher more or less stopped teaching entirely for several years before that fact was discovered, and that was in a reasonably good school. If they had been using standardized tests that fact would have been discovered after the first year. I'm willing to bet a lot of that teacher's students never caught up. Eliminating standardized testing will eliminate accountability and result in a proliferation of teachers like the one I described. They should INCREASE THE NUMBER OF STANDARDIZED TESTS, not eliminate them. If they had given the kids in that teacher's class standardized tests after 10 weeks think how much better things would have been for those poor kids. If you have a PROVEN ALTERNATIVE TO STANDARDIZED TESTING I'd like to hear what it is. Just pointing out problems with the current tests isn't enough. That's like pointing out problems with a certain type of chemotherapy without offering an alternative that has been PROVEN to be better. Pleas provide links to anything you reference.

Posted by: david_r_fry | August 20, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

@david_r_fry: I don't believe that anyone here is saying that we need to get rid of standardized testing. They are saying that standardized test scores should not be the only measure of a school's or teacher's performance. These tests were not designed to measure teacher performance. They were designed to measure what a student knows in some areas. The data can be useful in determining areas that a teacher needs to focus instruction on or in identifying students who need help in a particular area. Of course, one is assuming that the students took the test seriously and that the scores actually are a true representation of what they are meant to measure. Some kids get so sick of these tests that they literally fill in anything. There is no consequence for this nor is there any incentive for doing well.

Posted by: musiclady | August 20, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

The challenge for Jay is to watch his colleague John Merrrow's 4-part video footage with Brian Betts (late principal of Shaw MS) believe Betts was doing everything conservative and progressive educators believe a principal and school should do, as Betts describes his own job performance; and then explain absent progress in test scores, while still believing those tests are the metric of Betts' success. There was, at Shaw MS, no absense of daily monitioring, daily support, advanced and sustained preparation, or motivation.

Posted by: incredulous | August 20, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Ok David Fry, since you don't seem to be up on the latest news in NYC, I'll do your work for you:

The rest is easy to find and I suppose I could provide them for you. Instead though, I'll tell you what I often say to my children, "research skills are important and you'll never learn if I do it for you."

David, I suggest the google search engine as an easy way to start your journey, or you could try reading the paper. The New York Times is available online or at your local library or news stand. Enjoy!

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | August 20, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I never said that I thought these tests should be the only thing used to evaluate teachers, and that's not what's going to happen in responsible teacher evaluation and improvement programs. I certainly can sympathize with kids who are sick of school in general and tests of all sorts in particular. Personally I can't see why the overwhelming majority of teaching and testing can't just be done as an ongoing and continuous process using a computer over the internet or local area network.
A teacher shouldn't have to get involved unless there's a problem, or there's something that just can't be done by a computer. Administrators, teachers, and parents should be able to access the system and see exactly where a student stands in each subject, what they've been having problems with, etc. One story I like to tell is about something I witnessed in an internet cafe I use to own. Two middle school age kids were playing World of Warcraft(an MMORPG) and one kid was giving very detailed and complicated instructions about how to get from one side of the game's 3d world to another where they were going to join a "raid". After they got there and were waiting for the raid to start I overheard them talking about where Buffalo and Boston were. They weren't sure which state they were in or whether or not they were north, south, east, or west. What's on going on in these school?

Well, maybe you have esp but I don't. One thing I can do, however, is read and comprehend what I'm reading. This article doesn't say that the improvements in NYC are an illusion. Here's a quote from the article
'While the slow improvement of all groups is “still a success story,” Mr. Petrilli said, the achievement gap, which shows how different groups perform relative to one another, still means that most black and Hispanic students will be at a sharp disadvantage when they have to compete against white and Asian peers as they move through schools and into the workplace.

While the gap is not closing, Mr. Klein said he was encouraged that the scores for black and Hispanic students were rising nonetheless.'

If you know of a NY Times article that actually says the improvements are "an illusion" send me the link. I'm not wasting my time doing an internet search for something I'm pretty certain doesn't exist.

Posted by: david_r_fry | August 20, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

for johnt4853:

We may be talking past each other in some cases, but I think we are getting somewhere. I have cited those three local districts as ones run by people who used regular testing to inform instruction, and achieved significant gains for low income kids that needed them. Rob Smith in Arlington was a national leader of the corsortium looking for ways to raise minority student achievement, and as I noted, there is a book out about Moco and
Weast's achievements in that regard. I did a column on it in which I had some complaints, but i think the book shows that people who say regular standardized testing narrows instruction and hurts kids are not well informed. I suspect you have read that Harvard book. What did you think?

And for efavorite---I think the fact that I have written as much as I have about teachers, including 4 books, and had each one correct any errors I made before publishing, shows that my work reflects the views of people who have been in the classroom for a long time. I don't think Dave Broder is any less effective a political reporter because he never ran for office. We give the people we cover a voice. And anyway, it would be very hard to get a job anywhere at my age. I fear.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | August 21, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse


I have not read the book, but I will. I can pull together tons of research on the damage done by standardizing testing, and in the book I'm writing about my own experience, I offer plenty more evidence in additon to my anecdotes.

But rather than debate the numbers, please consider this. It is not the tool, so much as the way that the tool is used. AP and IB may not be perfect, but they are damaging schools. Its the fearful way that tests are used. My hypothesis is that affluent schools are not as fearful. Affluent schools have the money to invest in many other efforts. Poor schools know upfront that they can't get the job done with the resources they have. So the bottom line when forcing people to attempt the impossible is "don't let the patient die on your operating table." And that fearfulness is made worse by an attitude of "go hard or go home."

That may explain why you meet teachers who don't despise standardized testing. When I say that I don't think I know a teacher who doesn't believe that standardized testing has done more harm than good, I'm not saying that every district has teachers with such unanimity. But I think my experience is much much more representative of urban teachers. After all, you've said (if I paraphrase correctly) that life is short and you want to witness successes. If you were visitng and teaching in urban schools, I think you see things differently.

Also, what about the NCES stat that Paul Tough just cited? From 2000 to 2008 the grad rate for seniors in low poverty schools stayed constant. For high poverty schools the grad rate dropped from 86% to 68%. That spells harm to me - after spending billions on test-driven "reforms" to help poor schools.

Posted by: johnt4853 | August 21, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

for incredulous-- as often, you ask an excellent question. I am sure John's video is great, but I don't need to watch it because I spent a lot of time with Brian Bat Shaw his first year there, wrote three or four columns about him and was surprised at how disappointing were the gains in achievement from that hard work. The KIPP schools experience show that such improvements don't yield test score results right away, but still it is discouraging, and raises the good issue you raise. Do we clearly understand what works and what doesn't? I am pretty sure we don't, but we are getting closer than we were before.

Posted by: jaymathews | August 21, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I just read icln's comments about the Broad award. My city won the award too. At the time I was very pleased and asked one of the teachers how they did it. This was her reply:

We put a smart kid in the middle and pushed the desks together.

There is frenzied cheating on these state tests mainly because there is absolutely no security around them. The Los Angeles Times makes no mention of this and my local newspaper comments today "it isn't about the validity of these tests."

Yes, it is. It's about the validity of the tests. Were they designed to measure teacher effectiveness? Are they different from year to year? Do teachers and principals see them beforehand? Are they professionally proctored and administered? Are they carefully collected and graded?

That's the real story about tests (read about Atlanta scandal) and I'm perplexed and amazed that newspapers aren't on to it.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 22, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Jay - we're talking past each other. I'm not impugning your knowledge - I'm saying it's not possible to compare something a person can personally assess (the comments on Milbank's column) with something they can't (the knowledge in your head).

Posted by: efavorite | August 22, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

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