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Common Sense Advice: Test What Really Matters

July 30, 2012

Everyone who reads me knows that I am not a fan of high-stakes testing.  It sound so simple to say that every student should be tested and every teacher should be held to account on what that test revealed.  But, it is NOT simple.  Students are not pieces of machinery, they are…well…students, living, breathing, and thinking little beings who cannot accurately be measured by ONE end-of-year multiple choice test…it just doesn’t work.

The strange thing (or maybe not so strange) is that if you are a teacher in a school all you hear about are test scores.  I had a few drinks with some teacher friends and my old principal the other night and the talk was of reaching the magic “800” number on the California Standards Test (Star Testing/CSTs).  The fact that it is summer and we were chatting about testing which will take place a year away was wrong in my opinion.  But, that is what is going on in education, it is ALL about test scores.

I have a link on my home page to Leonie Haimson’s group: Class Size Matters.  It is a good site to visit and a great thing to support.  Mrs. Haimson makes excellent points below in this New York Times piece.

Tests Don’t Assess What Really Matters

Leonie Haimson

Leonie Haimson, a New York City public school parent, is the executive director of Class Size Matters, a citywide advocacy group.

UPDATED JULY 29, 2012, 7:06 PM

Campbell’s Law predicts that any time huge stakes are attached to quantitative data, the data itself will become inherently unreliable and distorted through cheating and gaming the system. In the New York City public schools, the overemphasis on standardized testing has led to test score inflation and numerous cheating scandals. Precious resources are diverted to for-profit testing companies, and learning time is lost as students spend weeks preparing for the tests, and teachers are pulled out of the classroom for days at a time to score them. Meanwhile school budgets are scraped to the bone and class sizes are rising. In New York City, class sizes in the early grades are the largest in 13 years.

The new federal mandate that teachers be judged at least in part on how well student test scores have risen is exacerbating this trend. Schools with the greatest numbers of poor, immigrant and special needs children will be increasingly subject to slash and burn tactics: mass closures and/or firings of educators, making it even more unlikely that qualified, experienced teachers will be drawn to working with the most at-risk students in the future.

Use student portfolios, peer reviews, and look at how well a school provides the best conditions for learning.

The National Academy of Sciences has not once buttwice spoken out against imposing this sort of high stakes accountability scheme on our schools, and pointed out the dangers of basing irreversible decisionson erratic and inherently unreliable test scores filtered through imperfect and abstruse formulae.

What would be a better way of evaluating teachers and schools? One cannot take human judgment out of the equation. Student learning should be assessed by multiple measures, including portfolios of class work. Teachers and schools should be evaluated based on the results of those evaluations as well as through peer review and parent and student surveys.

Schools should also be rated on whether they provide the conditions for a quality education: small classes, a well-rounded curriculum and experienced teachers who are treated as professionals rather than cogs in a machine. Never again should we forget that learning takes place through human interaction, inspiration, creative thought and individual effort. Piling on more standardized testing undermines the conditions that will make this possible.

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