Thursday, October 30, 2014

High Stakes Testing 2.0

In the world of reformsters and their Orwellian word salads, statements often mean the opposite of what they appear to say. "We need to be able to hire more great teachers" actually means "We need to be able to fire any teacher we wish." "We want to rescue high-poverty low-achievement schools" turns out to mean "We want to starve high-poverty low-achievement schools of resources."

So it really should be no surprise that "We see that there's a problem with over-reliance on and over-use of high stakes testing" actually means "We intend to triple down on high stakes testing."

From the moment CCSSO and CGCS held their misleading phone conference, it was evident that they were not talking about backing off testing at all. Almost immediately (as if something had been sent out in the Education Reformsters Newsletter), High Stakes Testing 2.0 began to reveal its ugly face. You can see it in the test-cheerleading websites such as Minnesota's. Even Arne Duncan got in on the act of being against the tests before he was for them (as well as trying to shuck responsibility for installing HST at the center of US education in the first place).

This has been a version of all those crime dramas where the guy who has gone undercover punches his buddy in the face before the really dangerous guys can kill the buddy dead. It's a stalling tactic, mean to save the buddy, not actually harm him.

The Cult of Testing paused just long enough to generate some headlines meant to soothe the opposition, but we are already proceeding with High Stakes Testing 2.0, in which high stakes testing remains the hub around which all decisions in education must turn.

Take a look at Education Post, the website that has rapidly proven itself as a war-room agit-prop echo chamber for every talking point of the reformster movement (and so I'll not link to them unless absolutely necessary). They've been running a swell piece by Erika Sanzi who thanks Arne for insulting white suburban moms and praises testing because, well...

My gratitude now extends to his continued call for smart and meaningful testing of students. We cannot possibly provide kids with the education they need and deserve if we don’t have an accurate sense of what they know, what they don’t know, and how we can best help them.

I try not to do personal attacks here. I'll attack ideas and statements, but I remain conscious that these are real people with homes and families and lives and aspirations, I must assume, to do good. But what am I to make of a mother and teacher who says that she won't know how her children or students are doing unless someone shows her standardized test results? How do I not insult her when she has so handily insulted herself?

Sanzi also floats the talking point that standardized tests are just like diagnostic tests at the doctors office. This is a weak comparison-- doctors order tests, one test is not used for all patients no matter what, and diagnostic tests are not used to evaluate the doctor and hospital. If you want my full rant on why this comparison is bogus, you can find it here.

And Sanzi winds up with the other go-to argument for HST, which translates roughly as, "How dare you try to deprive poor, minority students of this chance to advance in the world!?" It is potent salad of baloney that tosses in some powerful ideas-- civil rights! racial equity! wealthy privilege! It makes it clear that you are risking being rhetorically tattooed as a monster if you try to cross them. It does not provide one whit of explanation as to how giving a poor, minority student a high stakes standardized test will open doors to opportunity for that student.

As someone who has taught in both privileged and underprivileged schools, I can’t imagine anything more threatening to students’ civil rights than denying them evidence that proves they are—or are not—learning. How else can we expose and aspire to close the achievement and opportunity gaps if we aren’t willing to acknowledge they exist?

This echoes the language of John White the CCSSO/CGCS phone call suggesting that only through testing will we ever know that students aren't learning. Because the trained professionals that spend 180 days with these students have no clue (or are big fat liars), and so only tests will tell us The Truth. This is one of the foundational pillars of HST-- that our entire army of professional educators simply can't be trusted to give us information about student achievement. If we don't give tests, we will never know.

And test we will.

A recent post on the US DOE blog highlights just how little of an impression the anti-testing pushback has made-- starting with the title "Investing in Evidence: Finding Game-Changing Evaluations."

The full post is a monument to governmental gobbledygook and a blind faith in testing, but just look at that title. There are two huge assumptions embedded there.

1) The game needs to be changed. Schools are such a disaster we must change everything, start a new game, play a new song, throw out bathwater, babies and basinets. Game-changing does not leave any room for the thought that some of the work being done is good-- no, we need a new game.

2) The way to change the game is with tests. Not with training. Not with personnel. Not even with shiny national standards. No, if games are to be changed, it is tests that will change them. It would be hard to come up with a clearer statement of belief that testing is the foundation, the fundamental bedrock of all education.

The proposal itself seems to be (the language is really impenetrable, and you know I have dug my way through some doozies) to collect up the best tests that are most effective for something something as identified by people who volunteer to answer some questions such as "what questions about P-12 education are still unanswered, because if we find the really good tests and connect up the programs that can't afford really good testing, we can sort of spread the testy love around and answer all the questions by using all the tests. Lordy, I may wade into this thing in greater depth some day, but knowing how way leads on to way, probably not.

Specifically, we are asking your help to identify what the most pressing education policy and/or practice questions are and how answering them could provide needed information to educators, parents and local, state, and federal governments to enable significant improvements in education. Our goal is to support the development of findings that have the rigor and power to inform significant improvements in how schools, districts, states, and the federal government provide services to students.

The clear takeaway is this-- this is not a plan for cutting back on tests or limiting tests. It's a plan for spreading tests out and around.

Every indication, from the feds to reformsters to reformster mouthpieces, is that HST 2.0 may be concerned about its optics, but it's not remotely interested in backing off on the noble goal of testing America's children (and teachers) into submission. So we can all stop pretending that testing caps and limits and restraint was ever a thing, because it wasn't, and it isn't. Get those opt out forms back out, because you're going to need them.


  1. Well, thanks, Peter, for squashing that itty bitty iota of hope I had that the pendulum was about to swing its way back.

    I think standardized tests should be, for students, like the once-a-year lab tests I get before my physical. Sure, I feel fine, but let's just double-check that against some normed numbers in the larger population. The results give me and my doctor a little bit of extra info to go on. Assuming nothing major is wrong, I may want to get that BMI down a little and that hemoglobin up a little, but aside from that, I feel generally reassured that I'm on the right path, and those tests go completely out of my mind until the next time I have to take them.

  2. I should have said that these tests should be given once a year AT A MAXIMUM. Once every two or three years might be plenty.