Tests are essential to diagnose problems and hold public schools accountable to the public, write Bill Evers and Herbert Walberg in the Christian Science Monitor.
In the effort to hold schools accountable, tests constitute a critical tool that can help identify children with learning disabilities, judge the efficacy of chosen curricula, and suggest the degree to which educational products, programs, and practices are working. That information arms state and local school boards with the knowledge they need to make choices. In terms of accountability, tests provide the data so decisionmakers can do the rest.
Furthermore, testing is part of our culture.
America is a nation of people who’ve had their report cards taped to the refrigerator door, who have sat through spelling tests, college final exams, and professional licensing tests, and who receive performance reviews at work.
We’re not convinced that our schools should be the one American institution exempt from getting its own grade, with penalties in cases of failure.
Standardized testing is beating out portfolios as a way to assess students’ performance, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. The trend predates No Child Left Behind, though it’s been accelerated by the push for accountability linked to test scores.
Vermont and Kentucky investigated the possibility of using portfolio assessments instead of standardized tests to judge school, district and state progress in educational achievement.
But in 1994 RAND corporation researcher Daniel Koretz, now at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, released a report on portfolio assessment in Vermont that many experts say marked the beginning of the decline of that form of grading students. Koretz said Vermont’s assessment of student work suffered because one school might require one kind of project, and another school quite a different one. It was difficult to compare their work. Teachers, the Koretz report said, also complained that portfolios were cutting into valuable teaching time. Math teachers, he said, “frequently noted that portfolio activities take time away from basic skills and computation, which still needs attention.”
Portfolios allow in-depth assessment of individual students, but they’re time-consuming, expensive and subjective, compared to standardized tests.
I once served as a “community” evaluator for a middle school that was doing its own assessment process. I was supposed to evaluate oral presentations by students. I found I was giving creativity points to students for an exercise in which all the creativity had come from the teacher. Since I’d done that for the first ones I’d graded, I couldn’t stop doing it for the later ones. In fact, because of the design of the exercise, it was almost impossible to figure out what each student had done as an individual. When I switched to older students, I couldn’t figure out the reasonable expectations for their age group. I hope my grades didn’t count for much.