Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On impending failures

Lest anybody see the high-profile Atlanta example of standardized testing fraud as an isolated incident, Valerie Strauss writes about how Sask Party-style mandatory testing has produced similar problems across the U.S.:
In the past four academic years, test cheating has been confirmed in 37 states and Washington D.C. (You can see details here, and, here, a list of more than 50 ways that schools can manipulate test scores.)  The true extent of these scandals remain unknown, and, as Michael Winerip of The New York Times shows here in this excellent article, it is very hard to get to the bottom of these scandals. In Atlanta, it took the will of two governors who allowed investigators to go in with a lot of time and subpoena power.

Atlanta, in fact, is the tip of a national test-score manipulation “iceberg,” according to Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized tests. The cause? Pressure by politicians on educators to boost standardized exam results “by hook or by crook” to meet the requirements of laws that purport to promote student achievement but don’t.
Anyone following school reform over the past decade knows exactly what happened. Under No Child Left Behind, president George W. Bush’s chief education initiative, and then Race to the Top, President Obama’s central education program, placed increasingly high stakes on standardized test scores. They had to go up, or else there would be negative consequences not just for students but schools and teachers and principals.

Those mandates became coupled with a “no excuse” management push by school reformers who said teachers had, well, no excuse not to raise their students’ test scores. Not a lack of materials. Not an overcrowded classroom. Not students who were hungry or sick or traumatized from living in violent communities. Nothing.

Then we started hearing story after story about so-called “miracle schools” where scores shot up, seemingly overnight. The miracles never really panned out.
Needless to say, the same message which created incentives to cheat is exactly the one being pitched by the Sask Party: that student and school progress alike are somehow better measured by one-off testing than by longer-term development which isn't so easily reduced to a single number. And this even as international testing results show early childhood development and social supports, not constant testing, to be the most consistent contributor even to testing outcomes.

In the end, then, one can't describe the Sask Party's obsession with universal testing as anything particularly new or innovative. Instead, it's a well-worn racket whose flaws have already been thoroughly exposed in the United States - and the only question for now is whether Brad Wall will lurch ahead even in the face of the evidence.

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