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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Franken's Boneheaded Push for More Testing

From Detroit Lakes-Online:

“One of the things I think is a major change that we’re going to make is measuring growth,” Franken said. “What we need are tests that are used to help teachers teach.”

Rather than one high-stakes test given in the spring, he said, he’d like to see a series of lower-stakes tests given throughout a school year. They would be similar to the Northwest Evaluation Association testing many school districts already do.

The change in testing would allow ongoing evaluation of how students are performing and tell teachers what sort of help their students need, according to Franken.

“I think that’s what parents thought No Child Left Behind was going to be,” he said. “It didn’t turn out that way at all, it turned out a very boneheaded way.”

It's good to use diagnostic instruments to inform teaching. Teachers already do that, some of it formally and some of it informally. But Franken needs to be very careful here or we'll end up using one test to accomplish two very different (and incompatible) goals: use an instrument to help teachers understand what their students know, and use an instrument to evaluate a teacher. Considering the push to use "student growth" in teacher evaluations, we'd be wise to tread quite carefully lest we create a system that bastardizes formative assessments while encouraging a "teach to the test" pedagogy that cannot possibly prepare kids for any future (21st or otherwise).

Franken isn't just another Senator - he's on the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. To his credit, the article above also contains some very legitimate criticisms of school turnarounds in rural communities. But he also falls victim to the schizophrenic ramblings of the business class, which says they want creative thinkers but then push high-stakes testing that focuses on only the most basic of skills (and kills creativity):

When he travels around the state, he asks employers what they want from employees, he said, and most ask for the same things: Someone who is creative, able to do critical thinking and able to work in a team. “None of that is really measured by NCLB tests.”

And none of that will be measured by the new tests, Sen. Franken. None of it. But you'll still push for "growth models" and more testing (which you say will be low-stakes, but you're likely wrong). It won't prepare our children for the future jobs nor life in a democratic society, unless those skills require a heck of a lot of testing (and then a little more testing sprinkled on top for good measure).

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