Sometimes I feel like I’m the last man standing in favor of standardized testing.
I don’t think people know that when I ask “how are the children,” I’m usually asking about their intellectual care and development. I’m an education activist so when you answer, I expect to hear results from a relatively objective source.
Like standardized test scores.
I can hear your collective sighs and hisses. Heresy, I know. Am I unaware that testing students, as a practice, was invented by the Klan?
Don’t I know the tests states give school children in 2020 are actually the product of mad scientists in 1940. (Because that’s totally plausible).
While those are fascinating questions, I have my own questions.
What is the rate of reading, math, and science proficiency in your city or school district? What gaps do you see when you disaggregate the testing results by race, class, and gender? Which schools are accelerating the academic growth of their students, and which ones aren’t?
If you can find a way to answer those questions without testing, let’s talk.
For now I realize you will ignore all the ways the knowledge of psychometricians outstrips yours. You will call them “high stakes tests” when in fact the highest stakes are suffered by people graduating from K-12 schools nominally illiterate or functionally innumerate.
You will repeat the language produced in teachers’ union focus groups, “test and punish,” but you won’t say the alternative is to ignore how mass miseducation sets up millions of students for the greatest punishment of all: poverty.
Researcher Richard Phelps, a longtime defender of standardized testing, articulates one of my biggest concerns about removing standardized testing from the landscape.
Without standardized tests (or standardized grading protocols) in education, we would increase our reliance on individual teacher grading and testing. Are teacher evaluations free of standardized testing’s alleged failings? No. Individual teachers can narrow the curriculum to that which they prefer. Grades are susceptible to inflation with ordinary teachers, as students get to know a teacher better and learn his idiosyncrasies. A teacher’s (or school’s) grades and test scores are far less likely to be generalizable than any standardized tests’ (See, for example, Gullickson & Ellwein, 1985; Impara & Plake, 1996; Stiggins, Frisbee, & Griswold, 1989; Woodruff & Ziomek, 2004a, 2004b). (In Phelps, 2008, Table 1 lists some common fallacies proffered by testing opponents, along with citations to responsible refutations.)
I know we’re supposed to say “trust teachers.” I’m ok with that only if we add “but verify” to that sentiment.
Which brings me to a new report authored by Lynn Olsen and Craig Jerald for FutureEd that details the weirdly bi-partisan coalition (Tea Party and teacher unions?) who would have us blow up the accountability totem and send us all back to the bad data stone age.
This is how they summarize their report:
Standardized testing has been a cornerstone of school reform for two decades. But a bipartisan backlash against testing in recent years and the suspension of statewide testing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic have left the future of state assessments in question.
That’s the conclusion of a new FutureEd report, The Big Test: The Future of State Standardized Assessments. Written by senior fellow Lynn Olson and education analyst Craig Jerald, the report examines the evolution of the testing backlash, the current landscape, and how state testing systems must change to survive.
Drawing on a comprehensive, new 50-state analysis of testing legislation from 2014 through 2019, Olson and Jerald examine the striking scale of the pushback against testing and how the backlash is likely to play out in the dramatically different education landscape we suddenly find ourselves in.
I will go down clinging to the utility of standardized tests for civil rights monitoring, public policymaking, and system improvements. Yet, I fear the hull of that boat is below sea level.
You can read the report here: