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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why new tests at all?

On September 2, the administration, through Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, announced "a new generation of tests" (also see here). These tests will be better, he said because teachers will be involved in their creation, development and scoring. They will measure critical thinking skills and complex student learning.

The tests will also be just one of multiple measures used to evaluate teachers. Duncan stressed multiple measures so that we all know that test scores will not be the only thing used to evaluate teachers.

The tests are slated to be ready for the 2014-2015 school year. According to Duncan, their use will be voluntary.

Stephen Krashen responds,
Why new tests at all? Why new standards? Duncan has managed to make us forget these questions. The discussion now only seems to be "which standards" and "what kinds of tests"?

Why invest billions in test construction when schools are so short of money, and when poverty is by far the most powerful factor in student achievement?

There is no evidence that the kind of testing Duncan is talking about will increase achievement. It is an expensive experiment with millions of children serving as test subjects.

Why not dump all the tests and rely on teacher judgment? There is research evidence suggesting that teacher evaluation does the job of evaluating progress and achievement quite well. And if we need a standardized test to make comparisons, we already have the NAEP.

First we had standards.

Then to enforce the standards we have national tests.

And to teach the standards, will we soon have national textbooks?
I also have a few questions.

1. Evaluation Tool
Will the tests be developed as a teacher evaluation tool? If so, how will that be done? If not, then they shouldn't be used that way. Tests and measurements, and statistical computations, are not that simple. You can't just say "We're going to use this to evaluate that." It doesn't work that way. An evaluation tool needs to be adapted for different uses, and the tool itself has to be evaluated for it's effectiveness. What are the plans for making student achievement tests effective teacher evaluation instruments?
2. Less Government?
Why do people who continually harp about less government interference, more local control, and more state control think national standards and national tests are a great idea? The tests are going to be voluntary, but given the past record of the department of education the term voluntary is suspect. Race to the Top is/was voluntary, but if you didn't jump through the right hoops (i.e. evaluate teachers using test scores, increase charter schools, close schools) you lost the contest. Reading First allowed states to choose their own materials but states that didn't choose DIBELS for assessment had their programs denied.
3. What if we refuse?
What happens if states choose not to use these tests? Do they still get federal dollars? Does the state get to choose what kind of assessment to use? How will teachers be evaluated?
4. Rankings
What will the results of the tests be used for besides teacher evaluation and instruction? Will schools and school systems still be punished if they "fail?" Will schools, school districts, and states be ranked using the tests? Will there be multiple measures to rank schools and school systems? Will rankings determine the amount of federal money a school or school system receives? Will "failing" schools still be closed to make way for privately run, for-profit charter schools?
5. Poverty is still the problem
Where is the parallel program to reduce the number of students who live in poverty to fewer than 25%? Where is the parallel program to improve health care for our children who live without it?
6. How many tests? How much time will it take?
What grades will be required to take the tests? What subjects will the tests cover? Will there be a test for every subject in every grade? How much instructional time will be lost? In 2007 candidate Obama told a group of teachers, "You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do."
7. Who's paying?
Where is the money for the test development, teacher training, and publishing going to come from? Will the costs of the new tests reduce the amount of money that schools get for proven methods of increasing achievement like subsidized breakfast and lunch programs, early childhood programs, medical and dental programs, library support and smaller class sizes?
I'll think of more questions...It will be interesting to hear the answers over the next few years.

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