"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cheaters Never Win -- Part 3

The standardized test cheating scandal in Atlanta continues to get attention. Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, addresses it from a different point of view. Most comments about the cheating scandal focus on tightening up test security, but Schaeffer focuses on the root cause of the cheating -- the misuse of standardized tests.

In two articles, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and USA Today, Schaeffer calls attention to the insanity that is the testing craze in the US. In USA Today he denounces cheating, as he should...
Cheating on standardized exams is unethical, whether done by teachers, students or administrators. Enhancing test security might temporarily reduce the number of reported cases. But it will not address the root cause of the misbehavior.
...then goes on to blame the cheating, not only on the people directly involved, the teachers and administrators, but also the "pervasive misues of standardized tests in public schools."
The cheating spike is the predictable fallout from the pervasive misuse of standardized tests in public schools. When test results are all that matter in evaluating students, teachers and schools, educators feel pressured to boost scores by hook or by crook. Just as in other professions, some will cross the ethical line.

Cheating is not the only negative consequence from test misuse. Many schools have turned classrooms into drill-and-kill test-prep centers, reduced the difficulty of exams and narrowed curriculum. Some even encouraged students to drop out in order to boost scores. Basing teacher evaluations on students' test scores, as some propose, is guaranteed to ratchet up the pressure and further distort schooling.
This supports the conclusions of the report of the Georgia Office of Special Investigators who wrote:
"What has become clear through our investigation is that ultimately, the data and meeting 'targets' by whatever means necessary, became more important than true academic progress" (p. 356).
It's clear that the obsessive focus on test scores, not just in Atlanta, but around the country, as the end-all of the education process has damaged the quality of education.
That’s the biggest problem of all. The high-stakes testing explosion has led to dumbed-down teaching and learning, which, like cheating, is epidemic in Atlanta and across the nation.

Georgia and other states, as well as the federal administration and Congress, should treat the Atlanta scandal as a national warning call. Assessment and accountability policies much be overhauled to promote genuine educational quality, not just easily manipulated test scores.
Teaching to the test is not education. We need a rational approach to assessment...one that combines real classroom experience with good teaching practices. Schools have become test-prep factories focusing on higher scores to the exclusion of everything else. That needs to change. We need to get back to evaluating students on things like problem solving and critical thinking, and we need to teach those skills.

This has been going on for too long...decades. The so-called "reformers" keep calling for more and more standardized tests. Race to the Top, the Obama administrations education plan, calls for increasing the amount of testing to include ALL subjects. Now states are adopting teacher evaluations which are based on standardized tests. This is the current status quo in education -- it's time to end this experiment in test driven education.
There's a better alternative. Instead of putting even more weight on multiple-choice exams — a practice the testing profession's own standards label as improper — schools need an assessment system that encourages learning, not cheating. The core measures should be the academic work students do in the classroom, not how well they fill in bubbles on a one-shot test. Evidence of learning should include essays they write, projects they complete, problems they solve and, yes, regular classroom tests, midterms and finals.


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