Friday, January 11, 2013

Finally: Some Good News on Standardized Testing

YOU WON’T HEAR THIS OFTEN HERE:  but after a decade of school reform, all in response to No Child Left Behind, we have good news to report about standardized tests! 

Yes! And it only took a few billion dollars. 

Okay. No. Average scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college bound seniors haven’t gone up. They’ve been in steady decline ever since that landmark legislation passed. Those scores:

                                                Math                  Reading                Writing

2003                507                         519                      
                          2004                508                         518
2005                508                         520
2006                503                         518                       497**
2007                501                         513                       493
2008                500                         514                       493
2009                499                         514                       492
2010                500                         515                       491
2011                497                         514                       489
2012                496                         514                       488

**Writing test added in 2006; clearly, the trend has not been positive.

Well, then, what about all that the money spent annually on standardized testing? Is it well spent? According to the Brookings Institute the annual cost to the fifty states is $1.7 billion dollars. So, with billions paid out to designers of test, implementers of tests, and graders of standardized tests, maybe scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are up.  

Then again, maybe not.  

We have no appreciable progress to report according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Reading scores have remained as flat as a fifth grade teacher run over by a stampeding herd of test company executives. Math scores have increased slightly, but at a pace no faster than before all the testing began.  

If you want to know how bad it has really been, consider the Lone Star State, also known as “The Land Where Testing Began.” You may recall that a reforming governor named George W. Bush came charging out of the south in 2000, touting his success in revolutionizing education in that state.

Testing has been big in Texas, big like Texas, itself, but the results are more reminiscent of the Alamo. According to KXAN TV in Austin, between 2000 and 2015, the bill to taxpayers for all the extra testing will total $1.2 billion, and almost all of that cash has flowed into the pockets of a company called Pearson, “which develops the test questions, prints and distributes test booklets and scores the exams before sending them back to 8,000 schools.” 

Well, with all that money being spent, you pretty much figure the Lone Star State is kicking knowledge butt.  

Or not. Or not. 

Looking at results for 2011, the last year for which figures are available, it turns out Texas students are scoring fourteen points lower in reading on the SAT’s in the last ten years and scores in writing have plummeted seven points since 2006. So what did taxpayers get for almost a billion dollars of testing?  

A three point rise in math scores over the last decade. 

How about one of the strongest arguments first posited in favor of No Child Left Behind? This was the idea that school reform would magically close racial gaps. Total SAT scores, combining scores for reading, math and writing, were as follows:  

Asian American:  1626
Black Students:  1273
White Students:  1566

In other words, a billion dollars has gone down the testing drain, and the gaps in racial performance still remain.  

Worst yet, it is now estimated that Texas students in grades 3-8, spend an average of 19 to 27 days of class annually taking state-mandated practice test and then the actual standardized tests. Robert Scott, the state education commissioner, and a Republican himself, has lost faith. In a story for the Washington Post last February, Scott called the growing emphasis on testing a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.  

He went so far as to compare the growing testing industry to the “military-industrial complex.” (That’s still not the good news.) 

“What we’ve done in the past decade, is we’ve doubled down on the test every couple of years, and used it for more and more things, to make it the end-all, be-all,” Scott said. “... You’ve reached a point now of having this one thing that the entire system is dependent upon. It is the heart of the vampire, so to speak.”

SO WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS? I’m glad you finally asked. It turns out teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle are standing up and refusing to give the latest round of district-required standardized tests known as Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP.

Does this mean wild-eyed rebels armed with pointers and sharp pencils are loose in all Seattle classrooms? Are anti-testing Luddites watching over our children? Not really. No revolutionary thinking is involved. Simply put, like growing numbers of teachers across the nation, the faculty at Garfield High is convinced that testing doesn’t work, that it’s a huge drain of time that might be devoted to better purpose, and narrows the learning focus. 

In fact, if you want to assess the value of standardized testing, talk to the people who actually teach for a living. They’ll tell you that school reformers (and their highly enthusiastic supporters in the testing business) who have pushed for more testing have handed the American people an expensive sack of education excrement.  

The backlash is beginning to build; but it’s time for more teachers like those at Garfield High to stand up against standardized tests. 


I have tried to explain the dilemma I faced before, bringing fourteen combat veterans from five different wars to talk to 700 students where I worked. What could Joe Whitt, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, say that would ever appear as a question on a standardized test? How could what Seth Judy talked about be turned into a test question, if all he did was get blasted by a suicide bomber in Iraq?  

If interested, go to the previous post:

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