Confused? You should be. Because reports of testing data, whether they're the SAT, the ACT, the NAEP, or some other alphabet car wreck, rarely reveal the grand aha moment claimed and are more so indicators of just how far off base the nation has gone in understanding what matters most for school children.
Or how about this: That maybe the vaunted data continuously extracted from massive databanks of test scores really don't support conclusions drawn from them.
Back to those SAT test results . . .
What's Wrong With The SAT
"The real question isn't about why the scores went up or down," as Valerie Strauss puts it from the link provided above, "but whether or not the results tell us anything valuable about a student's achievement and abilities. They don't."
Strauss bases her conclusion on evidence drawn from a place where far to few observers of testing data dare to go - what's actually on the tests.
Problems with the actual content of tests aren't confined to the SATs. State tests used for all sorts of make-or-break decisions about students, teachers, and schools are also fraught with flawed design.
The reporters examined thousands of testing documents from across the country and found, "While lawmakers pumped up the repercussions of lagging scores, schools opened exam booklets to find whole pages missing. Answer-sheet scanners malfunctioned. Kids puzzled over nonsensical questions. Results were miscalculated, again and again."
Their findings, likely the tip of an iceberg of bungled testing practices, include questions with "no right answer option, or more than one right answer," wording that was unclear or misleading, test questions on "material never taught," and items that "bordered on bizarre."
To be fair to the testing companies themselves, the reporters note that "education officials failed to address why the tests were derailing or how government contributed to breakdowns," while an "unprecedented volume of test-takers" and demanding timelines for scores "left testing contractors without enough time to figure out why something didn't look right."
The AJC reporters trace the problem to federal policies that "ramped up testing programs in 2006 to satisfy No Child Left Behind mandates."
The Thousand Dollar Question
Despite the mounting evidence that testing does not revel the truth we think it does, the juggernaut nevertheless continues to roll on, as states spend billions more on ever-more expensive yet generally unproven new tests.
One expert, Bob Linn, warns, "Raising the stakes for our test-based accountability systems so that there will be consequences for individual teachers will make matters even worse. Cheating scandals will blossom. I think this annual testing is unnecessary and is a big part of the problem. What we should be doing is testing at two key points along the way in grades K-8, and then in high school using end-of-course tests."
Another, Howard Everson, bemoans, "The multiple-choice paradigm first used in WWI and eventually used to satisfy the NCLB requirements has proven to be quite brittle, especially when applied in every grade 3-8 and used to make growth assumptions. The quick and widespread adoption of multiple-choice testing was in hindsight a big mistake for this country, but - now - states will tell you it is all they can afford."
No one, however, in a leadership position seems to be taking this advice.
In the meantime, accountability-crazed "reformers" believing that policy can focus solely on these numeric "outcomes" are taking the nation's schools - and the children inside them - over a cliff.
As the country continues to veer toward the precipice, the first order of business is to shout, "Stop."
******************************************** -- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org