What Does Testing Mean?

I read these two articles and thought, "What are we doing?" and "How did we get here?"

The first is a blog entry from the Washington Post blog, The Answer Sheet, by Valerie Strauss who, in turn, had a guest blogger, Marion Brady.   It's called, Revealed: The School Board Member Who Took a Standardized Test.   The board member failed the test.  But that's not really the story.  Here's what he had to say:
I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.
“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

“I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

You do have to wonder how many kids get discouraged over a score and say well, that's it for college for me.

You do have to wonder how many teachers get blamed for students not passing the test when it may be the test itself.  And, as he asks, who is accountable for the test itself?

I know, I know.  We have to have some way to assess students but do you remember this level of hysteria over a state test when you were growing up?  I remember being worried about the SAT and ACT (but my town had zero tutoring and I had no idea it was even an issue) but never the state test.

Ms. Strauss then links to this NY Times article about an uprising of principals against testing in NY state.

But President Obama and his signature education program, Race to the Top, along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, deserve credit for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history.

As of last night, 658 principals around the state had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.

Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.

A principal at one of the highest-achieving schools in NY state has to take 10 training sessions as did another principal named 2010 Educator of the Year by school administrators.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.

“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”

Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”

She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.

In more depressing news, the state of Michigan has a  statewide Education Achievement Authority that is creating a new public school district of low-performing schools via the Michigan Educaiton Excellence Foundation.  Trouble is, most of it will be privately funded.  So it's kind of a public/private district.    So far they have received nearly $2M in private donations but from whom?  From the Detroit Free Press:

The California-based Broad Foundation donated $400,000 and expects to give $500,000 more before 2012. State and local officials declined to name other donors or give budget details, a lack of transparency some experts call problematic.

In future years, the EAA will get state money -- the state per-pupil funding for students from each of the low-performing schools that it takes control over starting in the fall. But current costs need to be covered, including Covington's $175,000 signing bonus and $225,000 pay, as well as salaries for cabinet-level staff that will soon be hired.
Won't name the donors?  Where have we heard that? 

Western Michigan professor of education Gary Miron says the appearance of private funding of public education is common, but a district funded with such large amounts as Broad has donated to the formation of the EAS is problematic.

What they do is, they buy and leverage influence in the beginning,Miron told the Michigan Citizen. They can leverage that influence by paying salaries and later determine who will be selected to administrative positions.

Broad Foundation graduates have played a prominent role in the formation of school policy in DPS since the appointment of Robert Bobb as DPS emergency financial manager in 2009.


Steve said…
I remember taking some sort of "aptitude" test in high school (maybe junior high) in the late-1970s. The first time I took it in the Fall, the results suggested that I might consider pursuing a career as a welder. That didn't make sense to me at all as I wasn't interested in welding and was never into anything like this. So, when I had to take the test again, I consciously tried to game the answers to specifically exclude welding as a future career choice. When the results came back...you guessed it, the magical test indicated I might consider being a welder.

I have nothing whatsoever against welders or welding as a career choice, but like a lot of kids taking tests, I learned early on that most of this was a bunch of hooey. I have a feeling most kids know that too, or at least I hope most do and aren't self-limiting their life because of results on an ill-conceived test.

- Steve (Not A Welder)
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said…
I'm not opposed to standardized tests per se, however I think they should only be used to gauge how our district is doing in general. In other words used for things like checking to see how our kids are doing compared to kids across the country. In that way we might be able to identify our curriculum or materials strengths or weaknesses.

Standardized tests should NOT be high stakes for students or teachers, and the passage of a standardized test should absolutely not be a graduation requirement.

Currently SPS high school students have to pass 4 standardized tests to graduate. They must take 3 EOC's (Alg1, Geometry, and Alg2) and the HSPE. That is absurd. I'd much prefer my kids teachers, who know them best, to decide whether or not they have mastered the material adequately enough to pass the class. And I like old fashioned finals created by the classroom teacher!

WA resident
Anonymous said…
“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Climate surveys in Seattle are becoming problematic for some schools. Where principles handle staff inflexibly and hold them accountable for every test score, teachers are demoralized. It isn't happening everywhere. Inflexibility and rigidity are suffocating our teachers in some schools. It is sad.

Simon said…
The world's best schools by most if not all measures are Finland's. In Finland, there is almost no standardized testing. The school board member who failed this test sounds like he may be coming around to the notion that excellent schools and standardized testing are quite possibly mutually exclusive.
Jan said…
Melissa -- you do recall that Covington's FIRST big hire for his new educational authority was Maria Goodlow-Johnson. Here is her write-up on their website (you have to look at it for a few seconds, until your eyes get used to the spinning, before you can read it):

•Deputy Chancellor, Instructional Support and Educational Accountability: Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is a career educator whose most recent position was Superintendent of the Seattle, WA Public Schools. During her tenure in Seattle, student enrollment increased, test scores outpaced state averages and private foundation support for the district increased dramatically. Prior to Seattle she served as the first African-American and first woman appointed as superintendent of the Charleston County, South Carolina School District. During her tenure in Charleston County the average SAT scores for students increased by 30 points.
Jack Whelan said…
A well-constructed standardized test has some value, but it can never be allowed to become the tail wagging the dog. Such tests provide data that can tell us something about student learning in the aggregate, mainly whether things system-wide are going in the right or wrong direction. They are misused when they are the dominant tool used determine individual performance effectiveness for students or for teachers.

But getting a well-constructed standardized test is not easy, and while it is possible to construct one, the least likely place for it to be constructed is in a state or federal bureaucracy. There are just too many political interests influencing the process, and I think that whatever benefits such tests might provide, their potential for doing damage far outweighs them.

These tests are expensive, they are time consuming, they are unnecessarily stressful, they often distort teaching priorities, and in the end they don't tell us what is most important, which is whether a student has developed a broad range of skills and knowledge necessary to be a productive citizen after he or she graduates.

In the politically polarized environment in which we currently live, I do not trust politicians in the aggregate to do the right thing. We must push for greater local control. Parents, teachers, and the students themselves know what's in the best interests of students far better than the bureaucrats in our capitals.

We have enough trouble with the local school bureaucracy without having also to deal with all the ways in which the state and feds mess things up. And believe me, state-imposed standardized tests coming through the CCSS have a far greater potential for messing things up than they have for helping our students become thoughtful, productive citizens.

People who support CCSS are seduced by a fantasy of what they might be; people who resist them know what they will probably be--a poorly constructed tool used to unfairly judge and batter teachers and students.
Jet City mom said…
A career as a welder was closer reach to me than the career that my high school testing indicated. A university professor in the sciences. yep.
Difficult to do that without a high school diploma.
Apparently the counselors weren't privy to the test results- or at least no one ever said anything to me about attending college.
Anonymous said…
In math, testing currently means that we do NOT do relatively easy checks for the mastery of the basic, foundation skills.

If we did that in math testing, we'd have to come up with solutions other than plopping teachers into 3 day dog and pony shows on classroom management, differentiated instruction and group work. What would happen to all those buddies of the Superintendents when all those dog and pony shows are cancelled? Have those people get real jobs in real schools with real kids?

Let us get real - testing is about checking for mastery of a Mozart piece in the first violins, even if the kids can't tell a violin from an oboe or a kazoo. Opps! Testing is about your ability to feed 25 gourmets a wonderful dinner, even if you don't know the difference between halibut, salmon and stew beef. Opps! Testing is about checking the skill of the cabinet maker who doesn't know the difference between an electrical wall socket and an elbow joint under the sink. Oops! Math testing is about fluency with complex reasoning, because basic skills are so boring ... and we're all gonna go to Harvard Law and have a community based upon lawsuits!!

What Does Testing Mean ? Another raft of edu-crats sponging resources

Anonymous said…
My high school test indicated I should consider a career as a ballet dancer! Now there's a skillset that is easily measured by a fill-in-the-bubble test!

To be fair, this was an assessment of my interests, not an aptitude or competency test. But how stupid that career was even on the list. Sorry, but jr. year of high school is too late to take up ballet and expect a professional career, especially for a girl.

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