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Topic: [ncsm-members] The Trouble With Testing Mania [NYTimes Editorial]
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,020
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] The Trouble With Testing Mania [NYTimes Editorial]
Posted: Jul 15, 2013 7:22 PM
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From The New York Times / Sunday Review, July 13, 2013. See
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/opinion/sunday/the-trouble-with-testing-mania.html?hp&_r=2&
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The Trouble With Testing Mania

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Congress made a sensible decision a decade ago when it required the
states to administer yearly tests to public school students in
exchange for federal education aid. The theory behind the No Child
Left Behind Act was that holding schools accountable for test scores
would force them to improve instruction for groups of children whom
they had historically shortchanged.

Testing did spur some progress in student performance. But it has
become clear to us over time that testing was being overemphasized -
and misused - in schools that were substituting test preparation for
instruction. Even though test-driven reforms were helpful in the
beginning, it is now clear that they will never bring this country's
schools up to par with those of the high-performing nations that have
left us far behind in math, science and even literacy instruction.

Congress required the states to give annual math and reading tests in
grades three through eight (and once in high school) as a way of
ensuring that students were making progress and that minority
children were being fairly educated. Schools that did not meet
performance targets for two years were labeled as needing improvement
and subjected to sanctions. Fearing that they would be labeled poor
performers, schools and districts - especially in low-income areas -
rolled out a relentless series of "diagnostic" tests that were
actually practice rounds for the high-stakes exams to come.

That the real tests were weak, and did not gauge the skills students
needed to succeed, made matters worse. Unfortunately, most states did
not invest in rigorous, high-quality exams with open-ended essay
questions that test reasoning skill. Rather, they opted for cheap,
multiple-choice tests of marginal value. While practically making
exams the center of the educational mission, the country
underinvested in curriculum development and teacher training,
overlooking the approaches that other nations use to help teachers
get constantly better.

The government went further in the testing direction through its
competitive grant program, known as Race to the Top, and a waiver
program related to No Child Left Behind, both of which pushed the
states to create teacher evaluation systems that take student test
data into account. Test scores should figure in evaluations, but the
measures have to be fair, properly calibrated and statistically valid
- all of which means that these evaluation systems cannot be rushed
into service before they are ready.

Foreign nations with the highest-performing school systems did not
build them this way. In fact, none of the top-performing nations have
opted for a regime of grade-by-grade standardized tests. Instead,
they typically have gateway exams that determine, for example, if
high school students have met their standards. These countries
typically have strong, national curriculums. Perhaps most important,
they set a high bar for entry into the teaching profession and make
sure that the institutions that train teachers do it exceedingly well.

In Finland, for example, teacher preparation programs are highly
competitive and extremely challenging. (The programs are free to
students and come with a living stipend.) Close attention is devoted
not just to scholarly and research matters but to pedagogical skills.

This country, by contrast, has an abysmal system of teacher
preparation. That point was underscored recently in a harrowing
report on teacher education programs from the National Council on
Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group. The report found that
very few programs meet even basic quality standards: new students are
often poorly prepared, and what the schools teach them "often has
little relevance to what they need to succeed in the classroom."

Some problems could be partly solved by the Common Core learning
standards, an ambitious set of goals for what students should learn.
The Common Core, adopted by all but a handful of states, could move
the nation away from rote memorization - and those cheap,
color-in-the-bubble tests - and toward a writing-intensive system
that gives students the reasoning skills they need in the new
economy. But the concept has become the subject of a backlash from
test-weary parents who have little confidence in a whole new round of
exams that the system will require. Beyond that, teachers are
understandably worried that they will be evaluated - and pushed out
of jobs - based on how their students perform on tests related to the
old curriculum while they are being asked to teach the new one. If
school officials fail to resolve these issues in a fair manner, the
national effort to install the new standards could collapse.

Congress could ease some of the test mania by rethinking the way
schools are evaluated under No Child Left Behind. Test scores are
important to that process, but modest weight should be given to a few
other indicators, like advanced courses, promotion rates,
college-going rates and so on. Similarly, the states that have
allowed the districts to choke schools with the diagnostic tests and
data collection could reverse that trend so that schools have perhaps
one or two higher-quality tests per year. In other words, the country
needs to reconsider its obsession with testing, which can make
education worse, not better.
--------------------------------------------
Meet The New York Times's Editorial Board -- See
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/opinion/editorialboard.html
********************************************
--
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu



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