Friday, August 17, 2007

Testing and reform

Prior post:

Rather than facing the inequality issue, major politically imposed school reform efforts stress standardized testing as the driving force behind school reform at the k-12 level, particularly in low-income districts. Testing measures the ability to memorize small bits of information. It cannot measure critical thinking skills, the ability to function in a community or commitment to democratic principles. Testing has not improved schools, improved school funding, nor improved teaching. This low level testing tells us what we already know: students in low-income schools do poorly (Rothstein, 2004). Studies of thirty-year trends in achievement in math and reading by the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that over this long timeline, for the last ten years under the testing regime, on average there has been remarkably little change in achievement by students in our nation’s schools. (NAEP, 2004)
By and large we have a well orchestrated process of claims of school improvement but when you look past the press releases and carefully consider the data, we do not have a reformed school system or districts that demonstrates substantive improvement. (Bracey, 2003)

The earlier post pointed out some of the limits of testing. Multiple choice testing measures very limited learning. It does not measure critical thinking or civic responsibility. Teachers can develop assessments for these items. Frequently these are called authentic assessment.

This is not a position in opposition to testing. We need to resist the limited, narrow, reductionist testing presently being used in place of quality assessments. And we need to resist the misuse of test results by political and ideological advocates of NCLB who do not understand the limits of multiple choice testing as an assessment and accountability tool.
This issue is central to the current debate on NCLB. And, the focus on the "achievement gap" by O'Connel seeks to debate other issues rather than face the limits of testing and the abuse of data drawn from these limited tests.

An important issue is for teachers, politicians, and the public to decide, What do you want from the schools?
Do you want graduates who can answer multiple choice tests, or do you want graduates who can think for themselves, decide on issues, and carry out the responsibilities of a citizen?
Which skills do you want in the work force? Which skills do you want in the citizenry.

An excellent book by scholars in the field is: Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes testing corrups America's Schools. Sharon Nichols and David C. Berliner. ( 2007)
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