February 13, 2010

Testing Answers

"And to the education world, I have to ask how this was allowed to go on and what is the next step to restore public confidence and improve teacher morale?

Many of you complain that the actions of Berry and Alexander reflect a test mania that has gotten out of hand. But without testing, how can we know for sure how students are doing? And why is testing vilified?

No one complains about testing in medicine when they are sick. Yes, you trust your doctor’s evaluations that you have a serious disease. but [sic] you undergo the tests to verify the doctor’s observations and professional judgment.

So, while parents may trust a teacher’s assessment that their child is on target, why not test to verify?"

There has been a testing scandal here in GA, and just like when it happened in TX, these are the kinds of questions being asked. The questions above are from Maureen Downey's Get Schooled blog on the AJC site.

Here's some of my answers. Most of the ideas aren't new and have been put forth by others, like Dr. Krashen, before me.

It's interesting that Ms. Downey makes a medical analogy. Krashen made the following similar analogy, but to a far different purpose. If you agree that we need standardized tests in order to compare achievement and compare groups of students, then you're in luck because we have the NAEP test. It is given to small, representative groups of students who each take part of the test and it's given every few years. Like census data, the results are statistically analyzed to project out for the larger population. There's no pointless "test prep" and there are no immediate job-related consequences for low or high scores because they're not connected to any one school or principal or teacher (who might be tempted to cheat if their livelihood depended on it). If we are honestly curious to see a general snapshot of how our students are doing, this is the answer. When a doctor wants to test your blood to check your health, she only needs a sample, not all of it, to get an accurate picture of how you're doing. Anything else would be a wasteful expense, right?

We spend far too much money and waste far too much time on these standardized tests. There is no good data that the amount of testing we're doing is having an effect. The best option would be to cut back on the absurd amount and frequency of standardized testing and focus on smaller, better tests like the NAEP that can give us real data.

We are in a budget crisis here in GA, as in nearly every other state. If the Governor gave a press conference and only required our state's schools to give the federally mandated number of tests and did away with high school graduation tests (which have been shown in a comprehensive Indiana study to be basically meaningless) we would instantly be saving millions of dollars and our graduation rate would go up without any compromise to accountability or high educational standards. This would be the proverbial win-win situation, but it should just be the start. With funds as hard to come by as they are, this cutting back--not of testing entirely, but of unnecessary and unproven testing--is something that needs to be looked at seriously.