Can School Performance Be Measured Fairly? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.
Testing Has Moved Beyond Filling Circles, responds Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation. Objective test scores should be just one part of measuring student success.
When No Child Left Behind was written 11 years ago, standardized tests were the only way to consistently measure student learning on a large scale. But since then, many states have developed sophisticated data systems that can calculate the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college, enlist in the armed services and land steady, well-paying jobs. Instead of using proxy measures for successful preparation (i.e. test scores) we can use measures of the real thing. If high school graduates need to take remedial courses in college, for example, that means their high school didn’t do its job.
School evaluation should include standardized test scores and visits by “highly trained school inspectors” who can ”observe classrooms and interview teachers and students.”
Waivers don’t go far enough in allowing states to use better measures of achievement, adds Fordham’s Mike Petrilli.
States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students — whatever their race — don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes — like how many students go on to graduate from college — instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology — it can pinpoint exactly where students are, even if they are far ahead or behind most children their age.)
Use international benchmarks and real-world results, writes Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas education professor.
We can find out if our teachers and administrators are effective by comparing our students’ performance levels on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which assesses knowledge of mathematics and science gained from a rigorous curriculum, and the Program for International Student Assessment, which assesses daily life skills and minimal academic content.
Massachusetts’ 26 regional technical/career high schools have long wait lists and high graduation rates, notes Stotsky, who helped write Massachusetts standards. “Accountability ultimately lies in their employability after high school.”