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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Latest Untested Solution: National Testing

The dolts who put Bill Gates and Eli Broad in charge of saving American education are on the brink of rushing over the cliff with the rest of the clueless lemmings who have doubled down on ignoring poverty while promising harder tests as an antidote to the current 30% test failure rate of American schools.

Here is nice summary by Monty Neill (posted at ARN) of a the goings on today at George Miller's Club:
If you go to this link, you can click to presentations of five people (plus one more who did not testify in person), every one of whom spoke in favor of some sort of national standards - though largely through various collaborations among states (my very quick scan did not show anyone calling for the feds to do the job).

Not one presenter questioned the idea, challenged whether it would solve much of anything. Some made it clear that standards alone would not do the job, but no one seemed to point to really addressing poverty, implying that all students could meet what more than one presenter termed 'fewer, clearer, and higher' standards through schooling alone. No one seemed to ask what would happen when the higher standards mean every school will 'fail' (as the CA dept of Ed has projected for CA, which is being touted these days for its 'high' standards). [Note that two years ago Ed Trust called for 'thougher' 'college ready' standards with states -- that is to say, schools and educators since nothing at all happens to states - given more time for all students to reach them.]

Of course, most speakers also called for "aligned" tests - which means a national standardized test, or maybe a few tests among large consortia of states. Put together it means a national curriculum. And even if the resulting exam is in some ways better than the current exam, it implies a very narrow range of possibilities of demonstrating learning, a centralization of control over learning (which will largely be exerted through testing companies), and a further diminution of variety and the trying out of new things. We will be closer to the "Singapore problem" in which students score high on tests but in whom creativity is stamped out, closer to what Robert Sternberg called (paraphrasing) a perfect means to eliminate creativity in schools. NCLB certainly got us far closer.

One speaker referenced a recent Duncan-organized meeting on this which included makers of college admissions testing. Are we headed toward test-prep for the SAT or ACT to be the national curriculum (well-disguised, I am sure)? Do note that these tests only predict small amounts (about 16%) of the variance in college grades in the first year, far less for later years; and various studies (including by Achieve) have shown the tests simply do not measure much of what students are required to know and be able to do to succeed in college. Yes, that is just high school, not elementary and middle, but the concept floating around is to "build back" from college entry requirements.

BTW, after the stimulus funds go away, the current signs are the feds will revert to their meager funding of education, leaving behind 'tougher' standards with no means to get there, and coming in the wake of the devastation of at the least a major recession and what Economic Policy Institue projects as a rise of poverty to one quarter of all children and to one half of black children. (Recall recent studies emphasizing the cognitive damage caused by poverty through factors such as high levels of family stress, adding to ones pointing to power of nutrition, good and stable housing, etc.)

Since NAEP results have repeatedly shown that standards, tests and punishment do not produce increased learning on NAEP's independent standardized tests (never mind richer measures), it seems the "solution" is to get tougher, create 'internationally benchmarked' standards and tests - and soon forget about the money for schools....

Even if one thinks the idea of national standards and tests in reading and math would be better than the plethora of crap we now have, I hope the pell mell rush toward 'tougher,' especially absent any evidence there will be within-school or out-of-school funds to resolve the massive array of issues that contribute to weak school learning, will give you great pause.

The road ahead will be difficult - the chorus of presenters at this hearing sang the same song; Fordham has an all-day meeting to further promote the national standards and test idea coming up soon; Duncan is pushing it.... We can see here signs of a pell-mell rush to institute the latest silver bullet, absent real evidence it will help children and absent real commitment to create conditions to make what is at best a questionable idea a useful idea in practice.


Here is more info taken from the committee page - maybe the links will work:

Archived Webcast »

Rep. George Miller (CA) Opening Statement »
a.. The Honorable James B. Hunt, Jr. » Former Governor of North Carolina and Foundation Chair James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy Durham, North Carolina
b.. Ken James » Commissioner of Education Arkansas Department of Education Little Rock, Arkansas
c.. Greg Jones » Chair California Business for Excellence in Education (CBEE) Sacramento, California
d.. Dave Levin » Co-Founder KIPP: Knowledge Is Power Program New York, New York
e.. Randi Weingarten » President American Federation of Teachers New York, New York
Additional Items Submitted for the Record:

a.. The Honorable Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia, on behalf of The National Governors Association


  1. Apparently, you do not agree with the effort to account for what learning occurs in which school classrooms.

    Respectfully, what do you suggest to Rep. Miller that teachers do in classrooms to increase student academic learning rates?

    You never know who might read your blog and influence policy makers more in the direction you prefer.

  2. Teachers who have been labeled "stake-holders" by outside Bizness forces need to stop holding the stakes and find the nearest pro-"reform" vampire to use it on.

    And, pound HARD.