I write a lot about what I oppose, so as a sort of thought experiment, today I'll try to imagine if there are ways to accomplish reformster goals that I could live happily with. The posts in the series include Imagining Charters, Imagining Teach for America, Imagining National Standards, Imagining Vouchers and Choice, Imagining Teacher Evaluation, and Imagining National Assessments.
And I have left this one till last. Regular readers of the blog know that I am a standardized test denier; I remain convinced that there's not much value in a standardized test administered and scored on a national scale. To assess anything worthwhile on a national level would represent an impossible task in terms of scoring and turnaround. Any test that has been made simple enough to score a few hundred thousand copies in even a month is not going to measure anything really worth measuring, and certainly nothing that couldn't be better measured on the local level.
And in fact nobody can even claim, at this point, to have come up with a full size all-student all-states assessment. Of all the reformster dreams, the dream of a single national assessment is most clearly dead and gone.
So what could we come up with?
First, we'd have to know what the assessment was for. To provide a comparable measure of all students across and within all state lines? To measure how well a school, district, or state was doing at teaching....well, something? To evaluate teachers? To see which education programs or teachniques are most effective?
All of those have been offered as reasons for the Big Standardized Test, but we can't do them all at once, and so we haven't come close to doing any of them well.
Measuring a range of students is hard. As student ability tops or bottoms out, the useful information from the test disappears into noise (IOW, if every student in my class gets a 0% or a 100% on a test, I don't get very detailed information about their grasp of the material). So, national tests given in bands? I know adaptive testing is supposed to handle this, but it also appears to be teaching students that it pays to purposely blow questions on computerized tests.
We can't test critical thinking on a standardized test-- not and get results back before a decade has gone by. Computer-scored essays are still as far away as siri-assisted surgery.
If the tests are going to be scored in any kind of speedy manner, the questions have to be machine-scoreable. If the questions are machine-scoreable, they have to be some variation of a multiple choice question, and if the questions are some variation on the classic bubble test, they are not testing anything of any depth of value, no matter what purpose we're pretending the test serves.
I can imagine a lot of things, but I cannot imagine a useful national-scale standardized test that does anything valuable except generate huge revenue streams for test manufacturers. Fortunately, I also cannot imagine any purpose for which we would ever need such a test.
Do we need to be able to compare a sophomore in Iowa with a sophomore in Georgia? I can't think of a reason, unless they are cousins vying for the best seat at Grandma's Christmas breakfast table. Do we need to be able to stack rank schools? I can't think of any reason, unless we're trying to label some failures in order to crack open a valuable market. Do we need to provide information about student understanding to parents and teachers? Sure, but why do all students need to take the same test to do that? And where are these teachers and parents who are too dumb to know how the student is doing without a national BS Test? Do we need feedback on teacher results in order to punish educators into excellence? I can't think of any reason, unless-- no, I can't think of any reason. If you think teachers became teachers because they weren't interested in students or education, I can't imagine how I could get you to understand otherwise.
So no-- on this one I'm stumped. I can't think of a way to create a useful national standardized test nor a reason to want to. I guess my imagining is done for the day.