Speaker after speaker at a conference held by the Center for Reinventing Education (a pro-choice think tank) lamented that current testing and accountability programs are not working. Large scale standardized testing does not improve achievement or close achievement gaps. This is no surprise. Tests take the temperature; they don’t improve teachers, instruction, or the motivation to learn. They do not build up neighborhoods; they more likely tear them apart. Everyone wants the ‘A’ school and tries to escape the bottom rung. Only in Lake Woebegone, however, are all children above average.
One wonders if the current wave of criticism of testing is simply manufactured by companies who have invested heavily in data driven online learning. To make room for the new, business practice destroys the old. Picture students who sit in front of a computer much of the day learning in a ‘new way’. They read an excerpt, answer a few questions, take a quiz, and generate lots and lots of data. Companies build data bases, build evaluation tools, and create pictures of what a student knows every day. Hmmm, I see the image of a gold mine where students don’t profit from all that data mining but companies do. No wonder this movement is sponsored by the Gates Foundation.
Don’t get me wrong! The current test and punish philosophy is destructive. A system rigged against most kids is destined to fail everybody. The focus has to shift to teaching and learning. To make meaningful changes in what and how children learn, we need skilled teachers and a school climate where all children feel valued, not just measured and found wanting. Getting there will take a careful look at the consequences of how test scores are currently used….school grades, teacher evaluations, selection into academic programs, and monetary rewards. These scores emphasize who does not measure up and who will be left out. No one needs to be hit with bad and often fake news everyday.
When we rediscover ways to make teaching an attractive profession and learning a joy, we can test every few years to get a sense of how things are going. Right now we have the cart before the horse.