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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

NYT Talking about the Tests as Weapons of Mass Distraction

The New York Times editors appear to be catching on to the fact that the proliferation and misuse of high stakes testing  are not only a huge waste of resources that are actually doing more harm than good, but are also a "distraction" from the very real problems of poverty and inequality.  It's about time.

To the Editor:
Elizabeth Phillips decries the gag order that school principals are under vis-à-vis the high-stakes tests administered in New York State (“We Need to Talk About the Tests,” Op-Ed, April 10).
Best practice in educational and psychological measurement requires test developers to shoulder the burden of demonstrating the validity and reliability of their instruments. Unfortunately, the state and its test designer, Pearson, do not make validation data for state tests available to the taxpayers who fund them.
Meanwhile, the state pushes for scores from individual districts, schools and teachers to be made public, so that taxpayers can judge the quality of children’s education (and presumably be motivated to join the chorus calling for reform).
So how about a deal: The state can publish the test results any way it likes, but only if all test validation data is also made public.
State officials will never take the deal. If the public knew how weak the tests were, educational reform would be derailed.
Locust Valley, N.Y., April 10, 2014
The writer is a professor of teaching, literacy and leadership at Hofstra University.
To the Editor:
Yes, there’s a big problem with the state tests. But there’s a bigger problem: the whole idea of the Common Core standards. Accurately described by Susan Ohanian, a writer and former teacher, as “a radical untried curriculum overhaul” and “nonstop national testing,” the Common Core is an outrageous scheme with no justification and no empirical support.
The problems described by Elizabeth Phillips will eventually be solved, or at least reduced enough to stop complaints from coming, but the Common Core boondoggle will continue, with new and very expensive tests delivered online.
I suspect that these bad tests are a weapon of mass distraction, so that we forget what the real problem is.
Los Angeles, April 11, 2014
The writer is professor emeritus at Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California.
To the Editor:
Elizabeth Phillips is spot on. The state needs to take responsibility and immediate action because the current English Language Arts assessments undermine strong teaching and the Common Core much more than they encourage or assess it.
Meanwhile, there is one group that has the ability to immediately alleviate some of the negative impact of the tests — middle-school and high school principals. If all middle schools and high schools in New York City refused to use test scores in admissions, it would greatly ease some of the anxiety and pressure on the students, families and teachers.
There are better ways than the state tests to select students for our schools, but no better way to send a strong message to the state and the exams’ designer that the tests are not as important or reliable as they think.
Brooklyn, April 10, 2014
The writer is the principal of East Side Community School, a public school that refuses to use test scores as part of the admissions process.
To the Editor:
The most important value of having the state’s test questions released to teachers (and the public indirectly) is giving teachers the information they need to improve instruction.
Previously, when the questions and students’ responses were released, teachers and administrators would review which questions produced the poorest results. This data analysis permitted corrections to the instructional materials used and the time devoted to specific topics and objectives.
It also offered a look at whether any specific teachers’ students did significantly less well than those of other teachers in that school, thus permitting targeted professional development.
New York, April 10, 2014
The writer is a retired superintendent of schools and a member of the adjunct faculty at Fordham Graduate School of Education.

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