Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter 4 Share on Facebook 1 Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 1 (6 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Stats   1 comment

Exclusive to OpEdNews:
OpEdNews Op Eds

Bitter Lessons from Chasing Better Tests

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Well Said 1   Interesting 1   Valuable 1  
View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H3 8/27/10

Become a Fan
  (9 fans)
- Advertisement -

In a New York Times Op-Ed (22 March 2009), E. D. Hirsch Jr. argued, "We do not need to abandon either the principle of accountability or the fill-in-the-bubble format. Rather we need to move from teaching to the test to tests that are worth teaching to." This refrain parallels the contradictory messages coming from the Obama administration that claims supporting a change to the culture of testing in NCLB, but then argues for better testing.

Secretary of Education Duncan, in a speech about NCLB reauthorization (24 September 2009), acknowledged concerns about testing, but immediately took the same position as Hirsch: "Until states develop better assessments--which we will support and fund through Race to the Top--we must rely on standardized tests to monitor progress--but this is an important area for reform and an important conversation to have."

A better test is all we need?

Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been searching for the perfect test for a century now in education, and that has led us to the "reliability" and "validity" traps. In other words, technically Hirsch is right, but authentically, a test will never be anything more than a pale reflection of what any student knows.

Let's consider first something we claim is much less important than education (although that claim may be tenuous)--football. It would be quicker and cheaper to design a multiple-choice test that is well designed (high reliability and validity) and replace all football games, including playoffs, in order to determine high school, college, and professional championships.

Imagine Friday nights across the US with teams lined up in desks bubbling frantically to reach the state championship!

But we would never stand for this.

Somehow, however, this is exactly what we call for again and again as a solution for improving the education of our children in a free society--higher standards, more testing, and greater accountability.

- Advertisement -

The flaws of testing and accountability are failing our students and our society. Those failures include:

" A culture of testing perpetuates the misconception that teaching and learning somehow exist within an educational vacuum--as if the lives of children are suspended when they walk through the doors of school. Accountability principles that hold people accountable for conditions beyond their control will always fail, but that is what we do in education.

" Test data are never a pure representation of learning. A test score is impacted by effort of the student, quality of the test, conditions of the testing day and time, and a number of other factors that have nothing to do with learning. Multiple-choice tests, as well, are always impacted by guessing.

" Teaching to a test and seeing learning as a static body of knowledge is the lowest possible vision of teaching and learning. A basic argument of John Dewey that we have failed to see in this country is that education can never fully anticipate what any student needs to know, but schools can prepare children to be expert learners, something that a multiple-choice test as a goal or a measurement can never achieve.

" The best test possible can only be an approximation of learning. Any test must reduce what is being measured and depend on statistical approximations to create the perception that we are measuring something much larger than we are. As James Popham has argued, a test provides us data from which to make inferences, but at best those inferences are approximate--unless you make the test so direct and simplistic as to create a situation where we are collecting data that means almost nothing.

- Advertisement -

" Once we make any test sacred, that test replaces the larger and more authentic goals of school. Instead of reading, students take test-prep to be tested on reading; instead of writing, students take test-prep to be tested on writing. . .and the list goes on. Testing and teaching to a test are always asking less of our students.

Correlations, validity, and reliability are powerful in the world of statistics, and they sound impressive when we call for making our schools more rigorous. But in the end, teaching and learning are human endeavors that are messy, chaotic, and nearly impossible to reduce to simple measurements.

Calls for better tests are merely digging a deep hole even deeper. The solution to better schools is not better tests but challenge students to read, write, and think for hours each day throughout the school year, never lifting their heads or pencils to get ready for a test.

Next Page  1  |  2


An Associate Professor of Education at Furman University since 2002, Dr. P. L. Thomas taught high school English for 18 years at Woodruff High along with teaching as an adjunct at a number of Upstate colleges. He holds an undergraduate degree in (more...)

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

Go To Commenting

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles
- Advertisement -

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Ironic Lessons in Education Reform from Bill Gates

Reconsidering Education "Miracles"

Defending the Status Quo?--False Dichotomies and the Education Reform Debate

"A Question of Power": Of Accountability and Teaching by Numbers

A Tale of Two Films

Finnish Envy


The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
1 people are discussing this page, with 1 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

My only question, though, is how we know that kids... by Nikk Katzman on Friday, Aug 27, 2010 at 5:22:26 PM