Big news in the big apple and elsewhere in the Empire State: the new test scores are out, and they’re down! WAY down. As Chicken Little might say, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Every politician and government bureaucrat has been given the talking points that ultimately, this is good news because we have to be HONEST about how our kids are doing and whether or not they will be prepared for college and careers.
I have said it before, but it is worth remembering that all of this stuff about high stakes standardized tests is a house of cards. At the end of the day, these low quality, norm-referenced, multiple choice, and sometimes short answer tests tell us very little about what students know and can do. Even if a student has a correct answer, how are we to know with certainty that it wasn’t just a good guess? Or even a random guess? Think about it. When you strip away all the seemingly scientific gibberish about measuring academic achievement, the resulting numbers could have been generated by a computer making random choices just as easily as a child filling in bubbles on a piece of paper (I’m not making that up, someone actually proved you could score a 2 out of 4).
Professor Aaron Pallas from Teachers College has called all the brouhaha a “dirty little secret.” I couldn’t agree more. He writes:…no one truly understands the numbers. We are behaving as though the sorting of students into four proficiency categories based on a couple of days of tests tells us something profound about our schools, our teachers and our children.
He rightly points out that there has been little or no scrutiny of the various “links in the chain.” There is good reason to wonder about discarded test items (some of the ones that made the news were real bloopers too), the many children who ran out of time because the tests were intentionally longer in terms of items and shorter in terms of time (and the unconscionable stress that caused them), how the tests were aligned (or not) with the new Common Core State Standards and the fact the standards and pertinent curriculum are just being implemented in schools, the questionable practice of Pearson to slip items randomly on the test that do not count towards the score but are there so Pearson can try out and norm new items, and the list goes on.
If I were a school principal or administrator, I would probably react as Katie Sahedi, a middle school principal in Red Hook, New York did:Sitting around a table with my fellow administrators, our astonishment was somehow normalized in the run-off of a year saturated in convoluted, nonsensical, time-consuming and expensive directives from the NYSED. After disbelieving stares, I said “people, we have a responsibility to directly address the individuals responsible for this fiasco”.
Sadly, the protests and critiques fall on deaf ears, even when they come from the people with genuine expertise and knowledge. Meanwhile, those who cheat and lie and game the system get away with it.
How and when might we begin, on a national level, to ask the question, “Is this in the best interests of our children?” and to stir a meaningful debate about the purposes of education? We are headed toward a crazy self-fulfilling prophecy: our children perform poorly on tests because they don’t get an education. Instead they are put in front a computer screen where they take practice tests. That’s the dismal reality for too many children.