Monday, October 20, 2014

New Robes for The Testing Cult

Do you have the slightest shred of belief that the recent reformster declaration that we must get the whole testing mess under control actually meant anything good? Then right after I send you my sales pitch for buying a bridge over Florida swampland from a Nigerian prince, let me introduce you to .

There's nothing subtle here. The line on your tab will read "Let's test less but better #passthetestmn" and the first big headline says "Let's be clear: student testing matters."

Yes, the big testing cutback announcement was just snazzy new robes for the same old cult of testing. 

Without tests, we wouldn’t have the information we need to navigate our everyday lives. The same is true in our classrooms: without tests, how would parents, teachers and community members [my emphasis] know how our kids are doing, or how to help all students get on track? Just as we need trustworthy tests in our daily lives—from the doctor’s office to the mechanic—we need unbiased, quality assessments for our kids.

Got that? Human beings are incapable of navigating their daily lives without the benefit of some Wise Authority to test us and give us the results. Yes, without tests parents and teachers would not know how students were doing (because the parents and teachers who see the child every day are simply not as wise as the people who create The Test). Also, how would community members know how well the-- wait! what? When did we decide that students need to show their report cards to everybody else in town? I knew that FERPA had been weakened, but still, this seems a bit much.

So let’s test less, but better. Let’s use high-quality, relevant tests that strengthen teaching and learning, and give parents peace of mind about their children’s achievement.

See, this is what the new testing initiative means. "We have heard you," say the reformsters, "and we understand that you hate sprinkling arsenic over every part of every meal. So we have prepared these pills with the daily prescribed dose of arsenic in a capsule that you can quickly and easily give to your children." But under no circumstances are we going to discuss or even question the wisdom of giving children regular doses of arsenic.

Teachers Can Haz Robes, Too 

There's also a cavalcade of educators offering their Stepfordian support. Well, some of them aren't technically offering support so much as protective cover that obscures the real issue.

Taylor Rub, a special ed teacher, says she uses standardized tests as "one data point." Says Matt Proulx, a kindergarten dual immersion teacher: "Testing and data collection, whether formal or informal, is my road map to knowing where my students are academically and what I need to do to help them succeed." Which I don't disagree with a bit-- it just doesn't in any way make a case for standardized testing as part of that picture.

Teacher of the Year Tom Rademacher uses the most words, and I believe they translate roughly as "I don't get a damn bit of use out of these tests in my classroom, but low scores on state exams are the only way to get politicians to acknowledge that there are some neighborhoods where students are being ignored." Which is an interesting point, though it would be more interesting if the typical political response to discovering these pockets of neglect were not to cry "Failing schools! Failing schools!!" in the same tones used in another era to cry "Witch!!" and then following up with "Golden charter opportunity right here!!"

But then there's Luke Winspur who says "As a teacher, I believe that eliminating criterion-referenced, standardized tests would ultimately hurt students. These tests give invaluable information that allow me to provide my students with targeted instruction on the exact skills they need to succeed." If by "succeed," Winspur means "Get good score on High Stakes Test," then yes-- standardized tests are a useful part of test prep for taking standardized tests. Otherwise, no-- this is baloney. Winspur's picture shows someone who appears young and intelligent; if he can't tell what instruction his students need then A) something is wrong with his teacher thinky parts and B) teh standardized test will not help him, anyway.

More Bad Analogies

Elsewhere on the site, the nameless authors offer this:

Kids don’t like tests, but they also don’t like visits to the doctor—yet both are important. Like annual check-ups, standardized tests tell you how your kid is doing, and how you can help them stay on track.

You know what happens when you go to the doctor? A trained professional human being uses his trained professional human judgment to determine how you're doing. When you go for your checkup, the doctor does not say, "I have some unproven, inaccurate tests here that sort of check for things loosely related to your health. Whatever they say I'm just going to go ahead and accept blindly, because I just don't know enough about this medical stuff."

In the medicine-education parallel, doctor does not equal standardized test. Doctor equals teacher.

Plus, tests aren’t going away. Whatever your child wants to be—a doctor, an accountant or a carpenter—they’ll have to pass tests along the way.

So relax and be assimilated. The sooner you and your child learn to be compliant and  unquestioning, the easier this will go for you. All that word salad we keep shoveling out about how important critical thinking is? We don't mean when we're talking. Definitely don't question the assertion that every single profession in the world requires a bad standardized test for admission.

Robes Are Also Good For Covering Gaping Holes in Your Reasoning

The facts are clear: students who do well on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments are more likely to succeed in college.

Correlation and causation, anyone? We have discovered that seventeen year olds who regularly help their parents get food off the top shelf in the kitchen go on to be successful basketball players, so let's train every kid to get stuff off the top shelf.

So let’s keep and improve the MCAs—one of the best indicators of whether or not kids are on track for success in college—and help all kids pass the test.

It's funny that the Cult of Testing never wants to discuss that these tests are also one of the best indicators of whether a student comes from a wealthy home or a poor one. You would think that all this interest in correlations would lead us back to one of the most regularly-documented correlations of all. And yet, somehow, it never comes up.

The Cult Is Still in Full Gear

My main point? If you seriously thought that last week's announcement from CCSSO and CGCS about testing actually signaled a change in the Cult of Testing, you were crazy. Almost as crazy as the cult members themselves, who continue to believe (or at least claim to believe) that these standardized tests measure anything other than the students' ability to do well on standardized tests.

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