To the Editor:
If the past two years are any guide, it’s doubtful that the $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion that states will spend over the next six years on testing to satisfy the federal No Child Left Behind Act will improve educational quality for the vast majority of students in the nation’s public schools (“NCLB Law Bestows Bounty on Test Industry,” Dec. 1, 2004). It doesn’t matter if the test-makers are traditional publishers or niche players, despite the sales pitches delivered in this increasingly lucrative and expanding market. Unless the tests that established or upstart companies design support instruction, they’ll do little to provide stakeholders with reliable and valid feedback.
A look at recent evidence shows why. Tests currently in use for the most part are instructionally insensitive instruments. They fail to supply teachers with clear descriptions of the content to be assessed, overwhelm teachers with an unmanageable number of assessment targets, and lack instructionally informative results. As a result, the tests largely serve to create the appearance of accountability, rather than to measure it in any defensible way.
The winners in this process are testing companies, which are posting huge profits through sales of their tests, test-preparation materials, and textbooks. The losers are children and their teachers, who are stigmatized by a federal law that is insidiously undermining confidence in public education.
Los Angeles, Calif.
To the Editor:
Inasmuch as “testing drives teaching,” it is becoming apparent that the testing industry may soon gain full control of the teaching profession. Public school teachers are afflicted with a malady similar to that of physicians.
These two professions are controlled by large industries that feed, like parasites, on the main body. While the medical profession sustains and is controlled by the drug industry, public school teaching is in the tight grasp of an equally voracious testing industry. You report on a growing number of testing companies that are feeding on public education for millions of dollars—money that many think could otherwise be spent to benefit students.
Unfortunately, the federal No Child Left Behind Act and high-stakes testing are only symptoms of a larger problem. Our culture has a mental fixation that keeps us chained to testing and effectively prevents reform of public education. This mental block is responsible for the decline and stagnation of public schooling: Virtually everyone believes that student achievement in curriculum is the main goal and purpose of education. This is what teachers aim for, try to measure, and signify with grade point averages.
Could our culture do without grade point averages as the chief indicator of learning? Why are we so obsessed with the idea that human learning and intelligence are numerically measurable?
In two elementary schools where I served as principal, we made standardized testing irrelevant. We did this by changing the goal of education. After interviewing thousands of parents, the teachers adopted “human greatness” as their main goal and united with parents to focus on helping students grow in three dimensions of greatness: identity (discovering and developing unique gifts, talents, and abilities), inquiry (expanding curiosity and hunger for knowledge, and learning how and where to search for truth), and interaction (forming healthy relationships and developing powers of expression and communication).
This focus changed the curriculum from dictating to teachers and parents to serving them. It restored teaching as a profession. We developed tools for the nonnumerical assessment of student growth in these three areas. This allowed us to change from desperately trying to meet the impossible demands of politicians to meeting the needs of a diverse student body. We quit trying to standardize students and started to do the opposite—value and nurture positive human diversity.
A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as ‘No Child’ Law Is a Boon for Test Industry