What tests measure

Standardized testing is the subject of Jay Mathews’ conversation with educational innovator Deborah Meier. This is a model of a thoughtful discussion. Read it all.

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  1. PJ/Maryland says:

    Interesting discussion, though I’m not sure I understood it as well as I’d like.

    I gather that Meier doesn’t like the sort of standardized testing NCLB relies on, and thinks much deeper analysis of each student is needed. It seems to me that disagreeing with this is like being opposed to Mom and apple pie. The drawback is that such a deeper analysis costs time and money, and therefore few schools are doing it. (There’s also the subjective grading problem, which neither she nor Matthews brings up.)

    It’s an interesting idea to track graduates and see how they do later in life. The problem with that is that your feedback takes a long time to appear. If assessing an elementary school requires we wait till the kids go through middle and high school, and college, and then get established, when do we finally decide we know enough? When they’re 30? That’s 18 years after the kids finished 6th grade. _Then_ we tweak how we teach the kids… and wait another 18+ years to see if things have improved?

    I also found some of Meier’s rhetoric a bit overblown. An education that prepares kids to become “powerful members of the ruling class”? (Who knew the ruling class had unpowerful members, too?) The ruling class concept is (IMO) very flawed in today’s USA, but even if it were generally accepted, wouldn’t you want the majority of people to be prepared for not being in the ruling class?

    I also think her understanding of how the world works is a bit skewed: “(It would help if we required all employers to give parents time off to visit schools, so folks could see for themselves.)” Yes, it’s those evil corporations that prevent parents from taking time off to check out their kids’ schools. Obviously any parent who genuinely thought it important could take a day off from work to visit a school; there are very few jobs that can’t allow a single day off, and most have at least 2 weeks vacation (you could visit 10 different schools!). The limiting factor here is that parents don’t think they need to visit their kids’ schools, and probably that the schools would rather not have to deal with visiting parents.

  2. To put it less politely than PJ, the trouble with only using in-depth and subjective evaluations such as Matthews likes is that cheating by the schools to raise their ratings becomes undetectable until many years later.

    I’m not against a school doing in-depth evaluations for internal use, if they have the skilled people to do it well, and can avoid allowing teachers’ preconceptions about students or desire to see everyone “pass” to creep into the results. That data could be quite valuable both in identifying where students’ individual problems lie and in providing feedback to improve the school’s methods. But when this data gets compared between schools, there’s a nearly irrestible motivation to make the results sound better.

    I’ve recently heard several stories of teachers cheating on standardized tests by giving out the answers, erasing and re-marking the answer sheets before they are sent in, or raising the average by encouraging a few “special” children to stay home sick on test day. This can be corrected easily by proctors from outside, plus ensuring that absentees take a makeup test. OTOH, to ensure subjective evaluations are rated the same between schools, you would need large evaluation teams traveling around the districts. It might cost $1,000 per head…

    So I’m fine with Matthew’s using in-depth evaluations within her school. I’m very happy that she has been there and using the same methods for long enough to get confirmation of their validity from college grades, etc. But if I need to find out how her school’s PRESENT performance stacks up against other schools, I’ll look for standardized test scores.

  3. Didn’t read much. As soon as she wrote that our society wants to increase the gaps b/w rich and poor and b/w whites and minorities, it was obvious that she doesn’t know anything about the America I live in. I think it is sad that she lives in a world she sees dominated by racism and hatred. She should move to an area of the country where people aren’t so racist and mean-spirited.