Testing One-Two, Testing -- Is this thing on?
The Tuscon Citizen yesterday offered a very nuanced analysis of the testing regime, pointing out the obvious -- but often overlooked -- point that we need test scores to gain a basic understanding of students' skills and knowledge, but an overemphasis on them can be counterproductive. The entire editorial is thoughtful and can be found here, but I've excerpted the part I found most prescient:
Scores should highlights kids' strengths and weaknesses, but few beleaguered teachers have time to assess results from the previous year and address them in the classroom - especially when they're busy preparing kids for this year's tests.
And sometimes, focus on the narrow curriculum covered in standardized tests eliminates the layers and varieties of learning that could deeply enrich our children.
But the tests are mandated, so what's an educator to do? Here's what, the AEPI [Arizona Education Policy Institute] policy brief recommends:
Rather than teaching to the test, teach to state content standards. Instead of spending inordinate time preparing students for test questions they'll face and how to test, teach kids the content they need to know.
Since NAEP is a low-stakes test, teachers don't worry much about preparation for it and it is a more valid achievement index.
Sabers and Powers [of the AEPI] note, "It has become impossible to determine what is truly improvement in school, state and national education."
I've often said this before: Tests that aren't used to determine a school's success or failure in state and national grading systems are ironically more valid because teachers don't spend large amounts of time specifically preparing students for them.
In a personal conversation with Sandy Kress -- the architect of No Child Left Behind -- he told me that teachers should not be teaching to the test. They should be teaching to standards. The problem, of course, is that by making the test scores the sole criterion of school failure or success, NCLB has forced teachers to teach to the test. Or so the teachers think.
By removing the punishments in No Child Left Behind, teachers would be freed up to teach to standards instead of to narrow tests and test taking skills. They would also be able to spend more time analyzing past test data to ensure that holes in knowledge and skills are filled. I did not see in the editorial any mention of using a growth model which would judge schools, students, and districts, based on the improvement of students over time. Using the growth model would also alleviate many of the serious problems of high stakes testing as implemented in NCLB.