Saturday, October 9, 2010

The High Stakes of High-stakes Testing

When did we loose the fight over test scores?  When did good schools get re-defined as school that score high on the test?  When did good teachers get redefined as teachers whose kids got high scores on the test?  When did learning get redefined as the ability to spot the right answer from amid three red herrings?
Imagine a world that worked like this:
Manager to Engineer at Apple, "Hey, we need a new idea for the iPad."  Engineer, "I can't do that, but if you put a new idea mixed in with three old ideas, I can totally spot the new one."
Patient to Doctor, "I need a diagnosis for my illness."  Doctor, "I can't do that, but if you go hide in that group of well people, I can totally spot you."
How important, really, is the skill to recognize a right answer from a group of red herrings?  As the all-judging testing advocates seem to think, this is a hugely important skill.
It's NOT.  It's just a really, really easy way to see if kids know a fact.  We've got lots and lots of ways to see if kids know a fact.  Can they use that fact in an essay?  Can they use that fact to build a project?  Can the use that fact in a performance?  The problem is that assessing the child's mastery of the fact while looking at the project, essay, or performance is time and money consuming.
I understand why these tests are here.  People have lost faith in us as professionals.  Too many kids in the 1980's and 1990's were graduating from high school illiterate.  But we really can find a better way to look over the teacher's shoulder and see if they are doing a good job.  Testing isn't a good way.
A business friend of mine once said that in any business solution you've got "fast," "cheap" and "good" - pick two.
In assessing if kids are learning we've got "comprehensive (meaning looking at every single child)", "cheap", and "good" - pick two.
Right now, we've picked "comprehensive" and "cheap."  I think we need to think again.


Anonymous said...

Dave I'm right there w/ ya. I don't know if you saw my post about testing last week. I was soooo frustrated when a REALLY good teacher suggested at a leadership meeting, that maybe we should stop teaching WRITING to focus on the drill and kill skills that will get our test scores up. I'm certain she said this out of pure frustration because of the "testing pressure". But what I heard is, "Maybe we should stop educating kids and just turn them into little star test takers." The million dollar question is..."HOW DO WE TURN THIS AROUND?"

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