Testing Ourselves into Lower Proficiency

Our school system needs to be reformed. I believe that and have been an advocate of reform since the beginning of my career.  Unfortunately, some time ago, the claim to reform was co-opted by those pushing “higher standards” and “standardized testing” as the means to that end. And it hasn’t worked. And it can’t work. Testing is not reform, it’s just a means of measuring something that still needs to be reformed.

The latest example of the futility of testing ourselves into a better education was reported by the New York Times.  It turns out that, in an effort to meet the high standards of proficiency mandated by No Child Left Behind fifteen states have hit upon a plan–lowering their standards of proficiency. If I’m not mistaken, this is the opposite of reform.

At what point are we going to abandon this vain (though lucrative for publishing companies) attempt to test ourselves into better education.  Granted, we should not abandon assessment, or establishing standards, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that assessment and standards will lead to improvements in education.

We are sold this bill of goods by those who insist that American education is a failed system and only by setting high standards and holding students, teachers and schools accountable to these standards through testing is the answer. Well that’s great.  We’ve been doing that for eight years and what do we have to show for it? Students who are getting really good at taking tests; teachers who are really good at teaching test taking skills; and schools that are really good at administering tests.  Can we say this is educational reform? Of course not.

The fact is that the American education system is not a “failure” per say.  Many students receive an exceptional education, most even receive an adequate education. Of course, there are those who are woefully under-served. There are many inequities entrenched in education as an institution: racial/ethnic, socio-economic, gendered, regional inequities as well as inequities with regard to individuals with different learning modalities.

Our schools can address these inequities. There are much better ways to educate our children rather than trying to coerce them into learning by burdening them with high stakes tests.  The problem is methodological, so the solution must be methodological. We cannot keep doing the same  failed practices and expect that “assessing” the outcomes of these practices will lead to better results. We have to change how we structure our schools, what we do in the classroom.  All of our social constructs regarding teaching and education must come under scrutiny…scientific scrutiny.

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