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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Jay Mathews For Cheap Standardized Tests--So Where's the Headline?

It is good to see Jay Mathews come out from behind his desk at the Washington Post so that we get a full view of his inside-the-tiny-box thinking.

Writing for a new blog by the Business Roundtable cheerleaders of the Education Writers Association, he no longer has to carry on the pretense of unbiased reporter, but can simply let his hair? down so that all the world may see what he is really about. Here he is writing about Edwards' position on educational assessments:
My main complaint with his NCLB position is his stand on testing, which I think betrays a lack of understanding of what good teachers do. He is not alone in this. I have yet to find a presidential candidate who understands, or is willing to discuss, this point, so I can't see this as a major Edwards flaw. None of us is perfect.
Has Mathews really come to believe that his own vast experience of standing at the back of the classroom watching translates to understanding what teaching is about? Wonder if 20-year Yankees season ticket holders feel qualified to apply for Joe Torre's old job as manager?

Jay's true colors show through, though, when he talks about educational assessments--letting us see someone who has obviously not considered the possibility that all those fine teachers he knows so much about might, actually, be capable of designing their own assessments to measure the effectiveness of their own fine teaching:

Here is what his Web site says about his view on tests under NCLB: "Rather than requiring students to take cheap standardized tests, Edwards believes that we must invest in the development of higher-quality assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, and projects and experiments."

Sounds great, doesn't it? So why have so many states shied away from such tests? Why has the state of Maryland just decided to end its use of written answers to questions---the brief constructed responses?

The answer is that such tests are very expensive, very slow to grade and don't give you any important information that you cannot get from multiple choice exams. In addition, attempts to write such exams for ALL children---as opposed to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams written for high schoolers who choose to take a challenging course--usually fail, because the test makers find they have to dumb down the process or graders will go made, and they will be reporting May's scores the following February. Such tests also cost millions of extra dollars that would be better spent raising teacher salaries.

That is what happened with Maryland's BCRs---they came out slow and stupid and expensive and led to bad teaching. Maryland was smart to get rid of them.

It may sound odd, but it is much better to make do with short, cheap standardized tests. They give you enough to know how a student, and a school, are doing in general, and can provide some quick clues to a kid's weaknesses. All that fine teaching on critical thinking will come if the student has a good teacher, and the cheap tests can show which teachers are good at raising achievement levels and which are not. . . .

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