Testing…Testing…And Teach Your Children Well. Well What?

Interesting grafs in The Times’ deep dive on DEI training:

Ron Ferguson, a Black economist, faculty member at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, is a political liberal who gets impatient with such thinking about conventional standards and qualifications. “The cost,” he told me in January, “is underemphasizing excellence and performance and the need to develop competitive prowess.” With a soft, rueful laugh, he said I wouldn’t find many economists sincerely taking part in the kind of workshops I was writing about. “When the same group of people keeps winning over and over again,” he added, summarizing the logic of the trainers, “it’s like the game must be rigged.” He didn’t reject a degree of rigging, but said, “I tend to go more quickly to the question of how can we get prepared better to just play the game.”

When we talked again in June, the interracial protests had infused Ferguson with some optimism. “I have this mental image of plants that have been growing in the shade,” he said of the impediments Black people too often have to take for granted in our society, “and all of a sudden the shade starts to be removed, and these plants start to thrive in ways they never imagined they could. I think there’s a possibility of a blossoming if the society starts to see us as fully human, removing the cloud of white-supremacist assumptions.”

But, he suggested, “in this moment we’re at risk of giving short shrift to dealing with qualifications. You can try to be competitive by equipping yourself to run the race that’s already scheduled, or you can try to change the race. There may be some things about the race I’d like to change, but my priority is to get people prepared to run the race that’s already scheduled.”

This is a question we don’t talk about enough. Do you prepare students for the world they’re going into or the world you wish they were going into and hope to create? The answer, and obviously well-intentioned people have different ones, is not as straightforward as it seems.

Relates to the renewed fight over testing. We still talk about testing in blunt terms, should we get rid of testing? The real questions are what tests and for what purposes. There are key differences between say a 3rd-grade ELA test, the SAT, and an employment test. And differences between tests for individuals and tests that are aggregated for transparency, accountability, or policy. And most people have views that key off those various questions and are more varied than the test or don’t test debate allows.

This sector is certainly hunting for answers, but maybe even more really in need of questions.