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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Support for standardized testing? Apathy, low expectations, illogical thinking?

In his article “Gingrich, Romney, Obama - Education Triplets” (Washington Post, Class Struggles Blog, Dec 22, 2011), Jay Mathews writes:

“ ... the general agreement over education policy at the highest levels of both parties pleases the many educators and parents who think using standardized tests, weeding out weak teachers and giving parents more choices will help our schools break out of decades of apathy, low expectations and illogical policies.”

Two comments:

(1) Support for standardized testing?

Is it true that “many educators and parents” support standardized testing? The data is not clear. In the 2009 Gallup/Kappan, 66% favored “the tracking of student progress from grades three to eight based on an annual test” (table 9), with Republicans more favorable (71%) than Democrats (62%).

The poll did not, however, compare teachers’ responses to parents of children in school or to the responses of those without children in school. Also, the amount of testing students undergo will soon be vastly increased: there will be tests on more subjects (not just reading and math), there will be interim testing (tests given during the school year), and there is serious discussion of expanding standards (and therefore tests) to lower and higher grades. The US Secretary of Education approves of using test scores to measure improvement, which could mean pretests given in the fall. How would people feel about this massive increase, especially if they were made aware of the effect on teaching (e.g. the amount of time for test-prep, and the need for flexibility - see below) and the cost?

Relevant to this response is the reaction to a question in the most recent Gallup/Kappan poll (2011) asked whether there should be a “prescribed curriculum” (table 9).

Table 9. Should education policies require teachers to follow a prescribed curriculum so all students can learn the same content, or should education policies give teachers flexibility to teach in ways they think best?
Only 26% agreed. 73% said we should “give teachers flexibility.”
The new tests will all be linked to the standards. If we have pretests, interim tests, and tests at the end of the year, this will mean very limited flexibility.
(2) Decades of apathy ...
It is assumed that schools are suffering from “decades of apathy, low expectations and illogical policies.” Many (including me) have argued that the real problem with American schools is our high level of child poverty: Middle class students who attend well-funded schools are generally quite successful. There is no evidence that the level of apathy, expectation, and faulty logic is higher than it ever was.


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