Archive for April, 2013

Testy Words About Testing

Monday, April 8th, 2013
analyzing data from test results

analyzing data from test results

Them’s fightin’ words! Atlanta schools’ superintendent and a throng of teachers are alleged to have manipulated yearly tests in an effort to improve Atlanta’s public schools’ reputation. The last few months Atlanta’s school superintendent is the center of news attention.

You can bet there’s evidence on both sides of the question. You can put money on the fact that the case will erupt into a huge controversy of pros and cons about testing in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation (not revised since 2007).

There are advantages to testing as promoted since 2003 by NCLB.

  • State departments of education have been forced to regularize state testing.
  • State departments of education can use data to see which public schools are doing well and which are not, so various remedies can be applied.
  • This tool can be used in plans for evaluation of schools, administrators, and teachers. This idea led to the controversial “value-added” assessments in Los Angeles.
  • Assuming knowledge is cumulative, tests let the analysts know if the test-taker has accrued the learning expected at a certain grade level.

Testing controversy has been addressed regularly by American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and affiliates. President Obama in 2009 called on Congress to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the actual name for NCLB. Ultimately the federal Department of Education under the new superintendent set out its own new guidelines which started a rapid change for each state to upgrade its public schools, in spite of the recession. Came further lobbying for charter schools and choice-vouchers. Came Common Core Standards. Came federal waivers as 2014 neared and states complained that they could not reach the absurd goals set by the un-revisedĀ  NCLB.

Little federal word came out about testing design or strategy. Hard to believe! The disadvantages of the current testing model enrage all types from Diane Ravitch to Bill Gates, not just AFT and NEA.

  • The current goals set by NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress plan can’t be reached by all students in the country.
  • States were allowed to design their own tests and decide on levels of student proficiency. Results can’t be compared state by state from the outcomes of tests taken.
  • State promoted tests are not required by parochial or private schools. How can those schools be championed to be “best?”
  • Failing schools have received less money or been closed. While the issues of school districts may require some closures, the problem of testing is not helped or discussed in the debates.
  • Preparation for yearly testing has left less time for art, music, physical education in the elementary grades.

What is not addressed? All the difficulties with the current model of testing.

Who takes the test? Is it a criterion-referenced test like authorized in California or a standardized test? (A degree in statistics is needed to understand the difference.) How is each test designed? (Common Core Standards have been developed to make exams comparable.) Why does “proficiency” depend on which state you live in? (Only the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress provides a nation-wide sample of how students are performing in math and language arts and it has many critics.)

Last, but not least, recall that private companies design the tests for public school districts and make a lot of money nation-wide.

Until tests are designed and implemented so schools and teachers can analyze how to help students; until it is recognized that some children are not good test takers but may have other traits to be supported; until a magical test is designed that can evaluate a highly-qualified teacher, arguments will only be arbitrated in the court.

Public schools and students deserve better.