Opinion
Education Opinion

The Lessons Learned about Testing in New York

By Walt Gardner — October 13, 2010 1 min read

In an investigative report that was supported by charts and graphs, The New York Times on Oct. 11 revealed how New York State officials ignored warnings from experts for more than a decade about the way tests were being misused to create the illusion of progress (“On New York School Tests, Warning Signs Ignored”). The front-page story was a case study of assessment legerdemain in action.

What it showed was that a singular obsession with test scores had distorted the entire assessment process, undermining confidence in the claims made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein. In publishing the story, the Times performed a public service. Kudos to Jennifer Medina, the chief reporter, who was assisted by Robert Gebeloff and Elissa Gootman, and to Jack Begg, who contributed research.

To understand the article, it’s necessary to realize that tests by themselves do not possess validity. It’s the inferences made about what teachers have taught and what students have learned that are valid or invalid. The trouble is that few people in power took the time to ask the proper questions about the evidence used to support these inferences. They preferred instead to view scores as sacrosanct. The scores determined which schools closed, which students were promoted, and which teachers and administrators received bonuses. In short, they took on a life of their own.

Although testing is an indispensable part of the instructional process, it has to be carried out in a way that measures real learning. Otherwise, it becomes a game that is subject to abuse. It’s important to bear in mind that no perfect test has ever been designed, and none ever will. There will always be fair criticism. The goal is to come up with a test that is as close as possible to the ideal. Instead, New York chose to buy solely into numbers-based accountability.

The price it is now paying is deep skepticism from the public at a time when their support is desperately needed. Yet this outcome was totally predictable. The more any quantitative indicator is used for decision making, the more it will be subject to corruption, and the more it will corrupt the very process it is intended to monitor. Unless Campbell’s Law is repealed, what New York is undergoing will be repeated in other states again and again.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read