"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, August 08, 2005

Jeb Bush and "integrity that is unquestioned"

The Palm Beach Post reports that Jeb Bush was sworn in on Friday by Maggie Spellings as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board. Exhibiting the sharp contrasts that can be found among siblings, Jeb describes himself as " an aspiring policy nerd" and as "an amateur psychometrician." But there is one strand of his thinking that puts him on the same page with his brother--his insistence on the infallability of tests as the true measure of learning. He is quoted, too, as claiming infallability for the FCAT, the state test that Florida uses each year to ethnically cleanse the losers in the testing bonanza that was once known as school in Florida:
"We're dispelling a lot of myths in our state about how kids can learn... and the core of all of this is assessment. . . .Without an assessment tool that has integrity that is unquestioned, you can't challenge the basic assumptions."

Some readers may find good reason to remain skeptical about Bush's absurd claim, particularly when taken together with less amateur psychometricians such as James Popham, Professor Emeritus from UCLA, who spent more than 40 years studying and developing tests. At a conference I attended recently, Popham described 90% of the tests used now to make high stakes decisions on NCLB mandates as "junk." Read an excellent interview with Jim Popham here. Popham still believes there is much to learned with good tests, but he insists that the belief in tests as the true measure of school quality is folly:
The most profound misuse of educational tests these days is to employ a traditionally constructed standardized achievement test and base the student's scores, use those scores, as a reflection of school quality. These tests should not be used to evaluate school quality. And many citizens think that should be done and many educators can't disabuse them of that notion, because they don't know better.

If Florida teachers were to believe their governor, they would never know better. Fortunately, Florida teachers are coming to understand the lunacy of the state testing policy and the conscious intellectual and emotional genocide that is being waged against children of poverty.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:55 PM

    The Jim Popham interview was a very thoughtful overview of the problems with testing. One of the more poignant comments was regarding the importance of educating teachers about assessment. If courses on assessment were to be introduced in education programs, one has to wonder whether it would take the form of a critical and open-minded view of the current system or whether such courses would wind of taking the form of teaching teachers how to teach to the test. Personally, from my own experience in graduate school, I would have liked to have had an opportunity to take a course that was solely dedicated to understanding the assessment structure, the tests that I will be required to prepare my students for and maybe even some strategies on how to prepare students for the tests with engaging and meaningful lessons.
    What is has been so strange through the enire process is the total lack of discussion or acknowledgement of assessment and testing in general. In fact, many of the professors avoid the topic completely or make slight reference to it as if it doesn't even exist -- leading me to the conclusion that it has become the proverbial elephant in the room.
    Unless a dialogue is opened up on testing in graduate schools of education, how can future teachers be truly prepared to deal with the current state of affairs?
    Also, as Popham notes, it's not that testing and assessment are not important or that teachers should not be held accountable for transmitting important knowledge and information to students, but rather it is the type of tests and the type of assessments that need to be assessed in terms of the quality and benefits to student learning.
    He also seems to believe that those who are perpetuating this system of accountability are well-meaning but that was four years ago, I would like to know what he thinks about these well-meaning policy makers who have turned testing into the new "rod" for punishing and humiliating teachers and students who do not perform up to standard and the other consequences such as narrowing the curriculum, teacher and student flight from failing schools, and just sucking all the joy and creativity out of teaching which so many teachers are complaining about.
    It's funny how these things get so little attention as the public debate still seems to hinge on the lack of funding for testing or raising scores when the questions that need to be asked should focus on the quality of the tests, the use and abuse of the tests and the value of basing school and education reform on testing.
    The entire discourse about NCLB and testing needs to shift more in line with some of Popham's ideas -- obviously he is someone who should be on the NAEP Board not Jeb Bush!
    And, finally, psychometrician is such a scary word - it conjures up images of Frankenstein - if the shoe fits.....