In defense of testing

Test-based accountability has done little to improve student performance and graduation exams have done harm by lowering graduation rates, concludes a National Research Council study. But the study distorted the evidence to confirm the panel’s anti-testing bias, writes Eric Hanushek in Grinding the Anti-Testing Ax on Education Next.

Test-based accountability hasn’t raised U.S. achievement to the same level as the highest-achieving countries worldwide, the report complains. That’s an “extraordinary” and unrealistic goal, writes Hanushek. The real question is whether it’s raised achievement significantly. He argues that it has, even by the report’s lowball estimate.

The report also claims graduation exams “decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement,” and urges states to repeal their requirements.

The best evidence suggests 2 percent of students drop out because they can’t pass a graduation exam, Hanushek writes.  People who can’t pass a 10th-grade exam by the end of 12th grade aren’t likely to be high earners if they’re handed a diploma. “The economic impact on these students will be much lower than the average difference between graduate and dropout.”

Perhaps the best argument against exit exams is simple: If a student shows up for school for 12-plus years and cannot pass a 10th-grade exam, it must be the school’s fault, and it would be unfair to hold the student responsible. This argument, interestingly enough, is the precise opposite of one of the primary arguments against the testing and accountability provisions of NCLB: We should not hold schools responsible for low achievement, because achievement is affected by student motivation and family background characteristics beyond the school’s control. Taken together, the arguments embedded in the committee’s two conclusions imply that nobody—not schools, not teachers, not even students themselves—bears responsibility for low student achievement.

If we really want to maximize high school graduation, we can eliminate teacher-given exams, lower course requirements and hand out diplomas after 10 or 11 years of schooling, Hanushek writes. Certainly, the NRC should tell states not to require more math or adopt college- and career-ready standards, since raising standards will lower graduation rates.

We didn’t advocate an end to testing, Boston University’s Kevin Lang, a member of the NRC panel, told the Huffington Post.

Science snooze

The National Research Council‘s K-12 science frameworks aren’t challenging, exciting or imaginative, complains Joy Hakim, author of books about scientists (and a very well-written U.S. history series), on Common Core. The framework will be used to develop national science standards.

In the section on biology, bacteria and viruses are mentioned briefly, but archaea not at all. That’s out of date science. Archaea are one of the three forms of life, known as domains, broadly accepted as the base of the evolutionary bush. (At the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, even t-shirts for kids now come with the three-branched bush of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryota.)

Something else that’s not mentioned in this document: scientists. You won’t find Darwin, or Newton, or Einstein. The story of science, its history, is not suggested or even hinted at here.

While the framework provides a “mostly sound overview of basic concepts,” the goals for each grade are low. 

A team of teachers has been assembled to turn the “undistinguished” framework into science standards that are supposed to make our students globally competitive. “This is really worrisome,” Hakim concludes.

Next-gen science education

Science education should be deep, engaging and coherent, declared a National Research Council panel, which issued a new framework for science standards. Achieve, a nonprofit, will design the “next-generation” standards, which advocates hope will be adopted by most states.

Common Core Standards, now adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, cover English Language Arts and math only, notes Ed Week.

The framework is built around three major dimensions: scientific and engineering practices; cross-cutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering; and core ideas in four disciplinary areas—physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology, and the applications of science.

Framers hope to return science to the K-3 curriculum and to add engineering and technology in the K-8 grades to “provide a context in which students can test their own developing scientific knowledge and apply it to practical problems.”

The report calls for focusing on core scientific ideas and teaching problem solving rather than “just memorizing factual nuggets,” the New York Times summarizes.

“That is the failing of U.S. education today, that kids are expected to learn a lot of things but not expected to be able to use them,” said Helen Quinn, a retired physicist from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., who led an 18-member committee that spent more than a year devising the framework.

The committee hopes “to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science,” the report states.

Do our students know too many facts? It makes sense to focus on understanding core ideas and applying knowledge to solve problems, but it sure helps to have some knowledge to apply.

Update: The computer scientists want to add computer science to the curriculum.


NRC: Test science like reading, math

Science learning should be tested just like reading and math, urges a report by the National Research Council .

The report also urges policymakers to craft new assessments for all the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and math — that test students to probe for a deeper understanding of the material, and for states to hold their districts accountable to high standards for those subjects.

What’s tested gets taught.

Compared to what?

The National Research Council report dissing test-based accountability is misleading, writes Eric Hanushek in Education Next. The report proclaims:

Test-based incentive programs, as designed and implemented in the programs that have been carefully studied, have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest achieving countries.

The report actually finds evidence that suggests positive impacts for accountability, he writes. OK, it hasn’t turned us into Finland or South Korea. But it’s helped.

Why would we discard an effective program just because it falls short of our hopes of producing the world’s best education?

. . . Nowhere does the report indicate an alternative educational program that leads to as large an improvement in overall U.S. achievement as accountability. Nowhere does the report suggest any single program or package of reforms that would close the achievement gap with the highest performing countries. Nowhere does the report really make the case that alternative reform packages should not include an accountability component.

The report dismisses estimated achievement gains of 0.08 standard deviations as insignificant. Even very small gains have very big pay-offs, Hanushek writes. “If the future follows the patterns we have seen historically, the present value of achievement gains of this magnitude would be over $13 trillion.”

“Existing but imperfect accountability schemes could be modified in order to improve on the first generation of plans,” Hanushek adds, but the NRC panel ignored this possibility.

Test scores should be audited independently to prevent cheating, writes Herbert Walberg in the Washington Times.

As easy as 1, 2, 3

Preschoolers should learn their 1-2-3’s as well as their ABC’s, concludes the National Research Council. From NBC:

The National Research Council finds kids ages 3 to 6 are already learning numbers and geometry through everyday experiences.

“When we’re going outside we’re lining up and then we’re all gonna count. Count how many friends we have,“ teacher Anuschka Boekhoudt said.

“They’re learning addition and subtraction but they don’t really realize it you know. It’s just, it’s fun for them,“ Helling said.

Kids are ready to learn the report says. It’s preschool teachers who need more math training.

There are fun ways to introduce math before children decide it’s scary or hard, researchers say.