At EdWeek, Cristina Duncan Evans had this to say about standardized testing:
What's worse than annual standardized testing? Not having it at all.
Well, no. I don't think so. Her argument is not an unusual one.
What would happen if we no longer had to take the bitter pill of
standardized testing? At the most basic level, it would become much
harder to figure out which schools aren't doing an adequate job of
I don't think so. I don't believe that standardized tests are telling us that now, so this is kind of like arguing that closing down the telegraph company would be bad because I would never get any more phone calls from that guy who never calls me on the phone.
There are at least two disconnects. One, the tests aren't telling us about how adequate schools are and two, they never will, because they can't.
Politicians and bureaucrats could game statistics to make
achievement gaps disappear in order to appeal to voters who don't know
what is going on in their local schools.
Yes, because the past decade of test-driven accountability has kept politicians so honest.
In fact, we've been treated to a decade of politicians gaming statistics in order to make schools look like failures in order to justify initiatives for charts, vouchers, turnaround scammers and other folks lined up to get their mitts on the goose that lays golden taxpayer-financed eggs. If there's anything standardized tests have NOT been used for, it's to let people know what's going on in their local schools.
And, as always, I have a problem with the idea that local folks have no knowledge of what's going on in schools unless a government bureaucrat with a test results spread sheet tells them.
Without comparisons, failing schools would face little pressure to improve.
Really? Nobody would know they were failing? Not students nor parents nor teachers working there? And the only clue, the only possible hint that they were failing would be standardized test results? A click-and-bubble test that narrowly measures slim aspects of two disciplines is the best measure we can think of for telling whether a school is failing or not?
The needs of historically underserved populations would go unnoticed beyond their classrooms.
I just addressed this, so I'll be brief. This is a legitimate concern, but after a decade-plus of NCLB, there is no evidence that standardized tests help with the issue in the slightest, and plenty of evidence that they hurt.
Without standardized testing, successful schools with a strong
sense of mission would continue to thrive, but would their lessons be
adopted for all students?
Because other teachers aren't interested in hearing about what works, or because they have no means of contacting fellow professionals? And why does success need to be scaleable? Can it be scaleable? What makes you think that something that works at my school with my students when implemented by me will work at your school in your classroom with your students? I think I'm a pretty good husband to my wife. Does it follow that my statement is only true if I would be a great husband to every straight woman and gay man in America?
In the comments, Evans goes on to underline that she believes we need to be able to compare schools so that we know if students are getting a good education. This makes no sense. Do I need to compare my performance as a husband to that of other husbands to know whether I have a good marriage or not, or can my wife and I depend on our own judgment of our own circumstances. Every student should get a good education, and that means something different in every situation. Comparison has nothing to do with it.
Then in the comments Evans adds this:
That's why I favor fewer, better tests that are well designed and that
align with not just standards, but our values. If we value critical
thinking, creativity, and depth of knowledge, then we need to design
assessments that measure those things. Would that be expensive?
Certainly. Would such assessments be computer graded? Almost certainly
Sigh. I favor magical unicorns flying in on rainbow wings to lick my head and make my hair magically grow back. But it's not going to happen. I agree that the tests she describes would be useful, but we don't have those tests, and we are never, ever, ever, EVER going to have those tests. Instead we have tests that devalue and disincetivize the qualities she lists. She really lost me here-- it's like saying we'd like a really great house paint for our home, but until we can have that, we'll just have to bathe the walls in flames instead.
I don't trust schools and states to equitable teach ALL of their
students without some oversight, because historically, that just doesn't
tend to happen in this country.
In this, we agree. But I don't think standardized tests help with this problem in the slightest. In fact, they make things worse by creating the illusion that the issue is being addressed and take resources away from initiatives that actually would help. Standardized tests are not the solution, not in the slightest.