Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Anti-Test, Pro-Computer

Chalkbeat today notes the growing trend of reformster discontent with the Big Standardized Test, a thread which apparently emerged at the latest soiree thrown by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a group that has pushed ed reform for years.

But intentionally or not, Matt Barnum  also captured part of what is driving this shift.

Some members of the Thinky Tank set (with Jay Greene in the forefront) have been noticing that test results don't seem to really mean anything. But there's another reform group that is sour on testing:

The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids.

That quote comes from Susan Patrick of The International Association for K-12 Online Learning  (iNACOL), an organization whose bread and butter is tech based education, and which has thrown itself whole-heartedly behind Competency Based Education and Personalized [sic] Learning. Their opposition to the BS Test is signaled by Patrick's quote. If they are going to sell a system that lets students learn whatever whenever at whatever speed they wish, they need to remove the issue if a giant standardized test at the end f the ear.

In other words, the old approach to ed reform is cramping the style of reform 2.0. The 2.0 version is pointed firmly at the unbundling of education so that stdents can acquire their competencies and proficiencies and badges wherever and whenever and from whomever. This shift has the double advantage of a sort of ju-jitsu move-- people who are busy running away from the BS Test can be ushered straight into the Competency Based Proficiency Personalized tent. Reform 1.0 has become a marketing tool for Reform 2.0

It's worth noting that even some of the reformsters themselves haven't caught on yet. The repeated complaints about testing at the event drew this bemused quote from Sandy Kress, one of the creators of No Child Left Behind and therefor one of the fathers of the test-centered education reform movement:

“I was worried, frankly, about the conversation earlier today” on testing, he said during one panel. “How it is that the reform community gets to a position of wanting to throw it out as opposed to improve it? I don’t know, I don’t get it.”

Oh, honey. First, let's pause to note for the bazillionth time the irony of reformsters saying things that public ed supporters used to say all the time (how many times have we asked why it was necessary to trash and replace public schools rather than fixing them). Second, some in the reformy community want to throw them out because they've finally begun to understand that the tests don't do what anybody ever said they were going to do (and they never will). But more importantly, a whole bunch of folks in the reform community have decided to cash in on the Next Big Thing, which is education delivered via computer using mass customization, marketed as personalization (and which will set the stage for the Next Next Big Thing).

This is what happens when your ed reform movement is powered, not by education professionals making educational judgments based on their professional expertise, but by educational amateurs who are not knowledgeable about education, but who are adept at attracting piles of money. This is what happens when you unleash market forces in the education world. This is what happens when the people behind the curtain aren't saying "This would really help students" but are instead saying "We can make a buttload of money with this." Until the Next Big Thing. The Big Standardized Test is now the Last Big Thing. It doesn't work well enough to present expanding possibilities, and people who actually care about education want it gone.

This shift isn't going to happen overnight. Testing has put down deep roots, particularly in the way that test scores have been widely accepted as a proxy for school and teacher effectiveness. For people who want simple answers, test scores are about as clear and simple as they come (never mind whether they're accurate). Testing is cemented in education law. But then, ESSA opened the door wide for proficiency competency based algorithm driven mass personalized education customization. Damn-- I hope somebody comes up with a good name for this monstrosity slouching toward the classroom before it's all the way here.


  1. CBE/PL > "Fake Teaching"

  2. I think it could just be called "algorithm-driven mass education".

    To me, this would also be a good article for Forbes.

    The Yeats reference is a gem. That poem is very apropos for this whole era in general.