Education Funding Opinion

We Cannot Solve the Problems with Tests by Creating MORE of Them

By Anthony Cody — January 05, 2011 2 min read
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Albert Einstein once famously said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is proving that in spades. In his recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Duncan acknowledges widespread dissatisfaction with standardized tests, and the way they have narrowed the curriculum. He then asserts that these problems will disappear under his guidance:

That is why many people across the political spectrum support the work of 44 states to replace multiple choice "bubble" tests with a new test that helps inform and improve instruction by accurately measuring what children know across the full range of college and career-ready standards, and measures other skills, such as critical-thinking abilities.

So we will fix the problem of over-reliance on tests by producing new and improved tests, which we can then rely on even more.

Dr. Stephen Krashen offered a cogent rebuttal to Duncan on the Answer Sheet, where he pointed out:

The plan presented in the Department of Education's Blueprint for Reform calls for an astonishing amount of testing, far more than we have now with No Child Left Behind. The only people I know who support the testing plan have spent very little time in schools, haven't read the Blueprint, or just aren't listening to real education professions or students. Or all three.
We are about to make a mistake that will cost billions and make school life (even more) miserable for millions of teachers and students. The only ones who will profit are the testing companies. We should be talking about reducing testing, not increasing it.

Wolf Blitzer of CNN interviewed Duncan yesterday, and pressed him to respond to Krashen’s critique - which he did by restating his assertions:

Teachers, parents, students want real information. They need to know, are students learning? Where are they improving? Where are they not? Where do they need more help?
Those next generation of assessments are going to help us to get there. That leadership is being provided at the local level, not by us in Washington.

As Krashen pointed out in Schools Matter,

According to the Department of Education Blueprint, it will include summative (end of year) testing, interim testing, and will encourage testing more subjects. Since the Blueprint also calls for value-added testing, we can also expect pre-tests at the start of the school year. And this "leadership" comes from Washington, from the Department of Education, not for the local level.

We are being told that we can fix the problems with tests by making them more frequent, and more able to measure critical thinking. My problem is I have no confidence that this is true. I believe there are economic interests at work here - powerful and wealthy publishing companies who will greatly profit from a whole new generation of assessments, who are pushing for this behind the scenes. I do not believe that we will get less teaching to the test when we give the tests more often, and attach even more importance to them by tying teacher evaluations and pay to them. This is nonsensical. I have not seen the new tests being generated by the consortia, but I do not believe that any test that is mechanically graded, or even graded by low-paid humans, can successfully measure critical thinking and problem-solving.

Duncan calls for a greater investment in teachers, but the Federal government is not in a position to fund teachers, so this talk is cheap. Teachers are funded at the state level, and many states are facing huge deficits, and we are about to see a further disinvestment in schools and teachers. Meanwhile, for all his talk of local control, the next generation of tests will essentially be another unfunded federal mandate, because federal funding will be made contingent on their adoption by states. And these tests will impose a significant NEW expense on school systems across the country, just at the time when the bare bones of our schools are being dismantled due to budget cuts.

There may indeed be bipartisan support in Washington, DC, for Duncan’s agenda. But as the costs for these tests become apparent, I believe leaders at the local and state levels will see the choices that we are being forced to make. We must connect the dots here. Billions of education dollars spent on tests are billions taken away from the classrooms where learning actually occurs. And more tests will NOT improve the trouble we have with over-reliance on testing.

What do you think? Can we solve the problems associated with high stakes tests by increasing their frequency and quality?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue 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.