Are Schools To Blame For The Testing Circus As Much As Any Vendor Or Public Official?

It’s easy to blame Arne Duncan or Pearson for some testing policy you don’t like – but the response of schools may be a culprit, too. I take a look at that in a U.S. News & World Report column today:

It was like I was living an anti-testing blog post. My daughters were stressed and anxious about the upcoming state test. But here’s the thing: They were first graders at the time, so they didn’t even have to take the test for two more years. We live in a state where the elementary school tests don’t start until third grade and are not consequential for kids anyway (and in practice carry little consequence for the adults, either). So why were my kids freaked out?

It turns out, surprisingly enough, when adults in a school make tests into a big deal – telling kids they really matter, wearing matching shirts for solidarity, holding pep rallies, emphasizing test prep rather than teaching and launching parent-teacher association campaigns to make sure everyone is fortified with enough snacks – the kids pick up on it. A cynic might think it’s a deliberate effort to sour parents on the tests.

There’s more, including three big problems with tests today and some ideas for ways forward. Get a snack and the right color shirt and you can read the entire thing here via U.S. News’ The Report (which you can, and should, get in your email box for free). Transfer your test stress to me via Twitter or send me tales of ridiculous stuff happening in the name of testing.

16 Replies to “Are Schools To Blame For The Testing Circus As Much As Any Vendor Or Public Official?”

  1. When I worked for Orleans Parish before Katrina the Principal led and very Christian prayer over the intercom asking Jesus to have students do well on the LEAP test. People will try anything to meet and unreasonable goal when their jobs are on the line. It is however, unfair to blame schools when they are expected to achieve the unachievable.

  2. We noticed a dramatic and pleasant change at our children’s elementary school this year. Our third grader (when tests start here) would have gotten pretty stressed. However, the new principal this year eliminated all the pep rallies and other test prep hoopla and just made the week of testing seem normal.

  3. The facts on the ground are exactly as described. Here’s the thing: I’ve been teaching for 19 years. None of this existed before No Child Left Behind.

    The test booklets were kept on site, in an unlocked closet, from one year to the next. Could have cheated? Sure. But nobody did. There was no motive. They were about measuring students, not assigning worth to the institution and its members.

    This is what you got when you threatened schools with a black mark on their permanent record.

    I’m not saying this is what you should have gotten, but it’s certainly what you should have expected and can now clearly expect.

    What do you expect once this nonsense is determining employment status and salaries?

    High stakes testing is a package deal, and this is an inevitable part of the package. It’s easy to scoff at, but when you’re being compared to schools and teachers who are all doing it, it gets harder.

  4. “What do you expect once this nonsense is determining employment status and salaries?”

    Teachers believe that students’ performance can be measured but teachers’ performance can’t be.

    Teachers unions were unhappy with Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama. They will be unhappy with the next president as well. And they will never understand why.

  5. Alan, a little bit of reading will prove to you that what you have written is not true. You will find that very few teachers complain that their performance cannot be measured. Also, most classroom teachers are constantly assessing their own performance when they check for learning after each lesson or unit of study. They know that some tests the children take reflect their teaching (end of unit test) while others do not (standardized test).

    What teachers are against is being judged on standardized tests given to students. This is due to the fact that these tests generally are designed to measure the general achievement of the student (outside or inside of school) and not the effectiveness of the teacher. Statisticians tell us these tests are not valid when used this way. What these tests do correlate with is the socioeconomic background of the student.

    Can the effectiveness of a teacher be measured? Yes, but it takes the involvement of other professionals and cannot be done with an inexpensive group test. Also, as Patrick implies, these tests have now become invalid for everyone because of the lack of security and the pressure to “fudge” the scores.

    Please read about a standardized achievement tests and what they are designed to do. Also, read about VAM and what the experts have to say about it. Teachers need citizens to be knowledgeable about this important topic.

  6. Phillip,

    Aren’t you glad you don’t make a living by discrediting public school teachers? I am.

    What’s really sad is the fact that these entrepreneurs know very well what standardized tests measure. Watch them when they decide where to buy their homes.

  7. Alan Vanneman, you’ve obviously never seen a child asleep on a test booklet, or finishing their demonstration of a year’s worth of learning in under 10 minutes.

    Wish I could say the same thing.

    There’s a reason why it has their name on it, instead of mine.

    Also, I would never use the results of a bubble test to define a student’s academic performance, much less their overall worth.

    It’s a very rough gauge of their general range of performance…as any honest test vendor will tell you. Treating it as anything else would be irresponsible.

    No matter how much people want to believe otherwise, putting a child between their teacher and her paycheck is unfair to both of them.

  8. Not that I want this discussion highjacked, but it has been awhile since Mr. Rotherham has posted about Cami Anderson.
    He has a tweet (1:15 PM – 22 May 2015) about the wunderkind .
    As is his style when substance doesn’t go his way, we get the People Magazine version of Professional Education Reforming.

    However, on the ground, things are nastier for kids as their education is hijacked for the Anderson/Hespe/Cerf/Christie/Smarick social engineering:

    The crisis is at hand. The decision by Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run the Newark schools four years ago, to cut neighborhood school budgets by an additional five percent brings closer the day, predicted by a deputy state education commissioner, when the financial crisis becomes a “political crisis”–and the political crisis results in a decision to turn the entire district over to private hands.

    Andy Smarick, the former deputy commissioner, indicated that was the state’s plan.

    This is accompanied by Ms. Anderson allowing her friend Tiffany Hardrick to raid the till of $12,000-chump change for the Crowd, but in a school it could buy 7,000 library books.

  9. Those opposed to standardized tests, but not other tests, make such contradictory arguments. It does seem like many teachers’ unions are only opposed to them when they are used to inform assessments about a teacher’s or school’s performance, as those arguments seem to get mixed in.

    The obvious purpose of standardized testing is to ensure that parents and teachers are aware of how much their children are learning. If we have a school where students come into the year knowing a concept, and come out of the year not progressing, it is something worth looking at. If kids at a certain high school are getting As, but not able to pass the state exam on a subject, perhaps there are not really at the level the school claims they are.

    The real future of education is much more individualized, targeted instruction. We will rely less on arbitrary grade levels where you travel around with kids that happen to be the same age as you, and more on what you know and what that enables you to learn next.

  10. Teachers are not opposed to standardized tests; they are opposed to the MISUSE of these tests, which is very prevalent at this time.

  11. “Reformsters seem to want the following message to come from somewhere:

    “Hey, public schools and public school teachers– your entire professional future and career rests on the results of these BS Tests. But please don’t put a lot of emphasis on the tests. Your entire future is riding on these results, but whatever you do– don’t do everything you can possibly think of to get test scores up.”

    “I have no way of knowing whether Rotherman, Duncan, et al are disingenuous, clueless, or big fat fibbers trying to paper over the bullet wound of BS Testing with the bandaid of PR. But the answer to the question “Who caused this testing circus” is as easy to figure out as it ever was.

    “Reformy policymakers and politicians and bureaucrats declared that test scores would be hugely important, and ever since, educators have weighed self-preservation against educational malpractice and tried to make choices they could both live with and which would allow them to have a career. And reformsters, who knew all along that the test would be their instrument to drive instruction, have pretended to be surprised testing has driven instruction and pep rallies and shirts. They said, “Get high test scores, or else,” and a huge number of schools said, “Yessir!” and pitched some tents and hired some acrobats and lion tamers. Oddly enough, the clowns were already in place.”

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