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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Fix 'em, don't nix 'em: Tests show what's working and what's not

The Zeitgeist, it is a changing. First, the New York Times ran David Leonhardt's defense of college admissions tests as a way to identified talented students from not-so-great high schools. Now Jessica Grose, who writes a New York Times newsletter, explains why K-12 testing can show what's working -- or not -- and who's learning.

New York remains the “national epicenter” of the "opt-out" movement, she writes. Parents -- mostly middle-class and white -- see testing as stressful, time-consuming and unnecessary.

Grose doesn't mention it, but I think some parents don't want to hear anything but good news about their children. They prefer inflated grades to standardized test scores.

But test scores can be useful, writes Grose. She quotes Times reporter Sarah Mervosh on the “revolt” against balanced literacy: “The push for reform picked up in 2019, when national reading scores showed significant improvement in just two places: Mississippi and Washington, D.C. Both had required more phonics.”

Testing reformers are trying to address concerns that tests are "too long, don’t really capture the depth of what students know and the results come in too late" to be useful to teachers, writes Grose.  

Florida and Texas are piloting shorter tests that can be given in fall, winter and spring. The results may be reported within a week. That gives teachers actionable information on how students are doing.

Every question is reviewed by a group of teachers and field-tested for bias, said Iris Tian of the Texas Education Agency told Grose. Test designers get "feedback from the schools to make sure that the information teachers and principals are getting from the tests is actually useful to them." They're trying to make the test as short as possible, while still providing valid data. The goal is to mirror what teachers are teaching, instead of forcing teachers to "teach to the test."

"Educational gaps between the haves and the have-nots were exacerbated by the pandemic, " Grose writes. "Without standardized testing, we won’t know where to put the most resources, or what the contours of the problems students face even look like."

Ignorance is not bliss.

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