Well, now we're getting Magic of Standardized Tests Essay. Huffington Post has an essay from Teach Plus KIPPster Chris Hoffman about how deeply invaluable standardized tests are to his classroom practice, because with ESEA being discussed we need to remember how important Big Standardized Tests are for every student, every year in order for
Hoffman's piece is short on words but long on baloney.
He begins with the story of Alex, a student that Hoffman saved by the power of testing. Alex was actually pumped full of two years worth of learning in just one year, and that reminds us once again that you can't actually measure learning in years, but okay. How did testing help Hoffman perform this feat?
Well, before Alex even entered the classroom, Hoffman checked out his standardized test results.* This means one of a couple of things:
1) Hoffman is playing fast and loose with the term "standardized test," because no BS Test that I low of gets results back to teachers before the next school year starts. So Hoffman is talking about some in-house standardized test, which is not at all what ESEA reauthorizers are talking about.
2) California, where Hoffman works, has a speedier turnaround on BS Tests than anyone else I've heard about which, hey, would not be the first time I didn't know something.
3) KIPP schools start in November.
Now, Hoffman acknowledges some limitations:
While these tests never paint a complete picture, they give me a great start. I am able to identify struggling students and make immediate efforts to remedy their skill and knowledge gaps. In the case of Alex, I was able to meet with his parents before the start of the school year to ensure support at home.
Seriously-- you need BS Tests for this? Do you not identify struggling students by talking to their previous teacher, who has whole year's worth of data and personal first-hand information. Is KIPP's grade reporting so weak that it won't identify struggling students? How can that even be? Do the grades tell you what you need to know ("Hey, Alex got a 75 last year-- Alex must be struggling") or do they not reflect anything important ("Hey, Alex got a 95 last year, but the test shows Alex is struggling"). I mean, this is a KIPP school-- I thought you guys had a coherent carefully integrated program. Does it not give you consistent and reliable information about students? Is your school not small enough to allow teachers to communicate directly? And are you telling me that if not for the standardized test results, you would not have bothered to contact Alex's parents?
Hoffman says that talking to the parents clued him in to Alex's need to have a low-distraction seat in the classroom, and that's great-- but how do we give the standardized test credit for that. And once again, wouldn't that sort of information come easily through staff communication? Don't KIPP teachers talk to each other?
Hoffman makes the case for "every year" by admitting that a single test is just a single data point, so it could be an outlier. But hey-- three data points going into fourth grade. That would totally clarify the picture.
I fear that without yearly testing teachers would lose the perspective provided by a longitudinal view of their students.
Longitudinal picture my Aunt Fanny. Do KIPP teachers not give assignments and grades and stuff? Do they not talk to each other?
It looks like they do, because Hoffman's next paragraph paints a pictures of KIPP teachers in team meetings poring over BS Test results to find blind spots in their curriculum. So KIPP teachers do talk to each other.
Identifying a student's strengths and weaknesses, tweaking individual instruction, getting holes in the program filled in-- these are all perfectly good goals. What Hoffman and the other acolytes of BS Testing consistently fail to do is show why standardized testing is the best way to accomplish any of these goals. Even if I accepted that the tiny little sliver of bad data generated by these lousy tests did have some actual utility, I can still think of a dozen easier, cheaper, more accurate, just plain better ways to accomplish these goals.
But there are two problems with a solution as simple as having teachers talk to each other and share their regular classroom data from the year (because, yes, classroom teachers generate and collect and analyze their own data every minute of every day-- not just one time a year).
Problem number 1: Testing companies don't make money from teacher-generated data
Problem number 2: It's hard to keep teacher-generated data consistently available when your business plan depends on burning and churning staff every year.
But Hoffman's piece (which was apparently part of a weeklong onslaught) is a reminder that the test manufacturers are still working hard to get their product cemented into school law. Those of us who know better need to keep speaking up.
*Okay. In the comments section we learn that yes, CA does get tests back before school starts, but that schools haven't been giving tests long or consistently enough for his point to make sense.