Friday, September 18, 2015

Testing: The Circular Argument

This morning, the indispensable Mercedes Schneider takes us on a trip to Massachusetts, where profiteers have captured many of the positions of power in the education world.

Much has been said about commissioner Mitchell Chester, who heads up the fast-evaporating PARCC test consortium, but who will also recommend to the state what Big Standardized Test they will use. This is pretty much like having the owner of a Ford dealership decide what kind of cars should be used for your municipal fleet.

But I was also struck by Schneider's look at Harvard University's EdLab, which appears to be nothing more than a college based reformy thinky tank set to cook up policy recommendations for the privatizers and profiteers while using the Harvard banner as a cover. You can read the whole thing at her blog.

But I was particularly struck by this quote from Roland Fryer, the economics guy who was speed-installed as a professor to head up EdLab. He's talking (back in 2012) about his belief that there should be a two-tier testing system:

I haven’t figured out why no one has tried a two-tiered system for standardized testing. So, I live in Concord, Massachusetts which is a wonderful suburb of Boston — my wife and I just moved there — and I actually don’t want a lot of standardized testing in Concord because it will crowd out my kids learning Shakespeare and those types of things I never really read. However, in the schools that are failing, we really do need standardized tests because at least we know where they are and that’s really, really important. Just because we don’t test them doesn’t mean they’re not failing. And so I would actually say if schools are high-performing suburban schools or high-performing schools ought to be able to say, ‘You know what? 90 percent passed the test in 2008, let’s not take the test for 2 or 3 years so that we can focus on different and more holistic types of instruction’. For schools that are in the bottom, I think they ought to test those kids every day.

The standing argument for the Big Standardized Test is that without it, we will never know which schools are failing. But Fryer argues that we only need the test for the schools that are failing. But how will we find them without the test? Hell, he had only "just moved" to Concord-- how could he know if the schools were any good if they weren't being regularly tested.

There are two clear take-aways in Fryer's statement.

As I have always maintained, we do not need tests to find the schools that are in trouble because we already know exactly where they are. Hell, we already know that we can predict test scores just with demographic information.

Second, this is one of the most bald-faced statements I've ever seen about using the tests to just beat down the "failing" schools. Knowing where the failing students are is "really, really important"? Why, exactly-- and what the hell would be the purpose of testing them every day if that means stripping away the kind of quality education that you want to preserve for your kids in the 'burbs?

This is testing advocacy at its most obvious poor-bashing worst. We don't need a two-tier system. We need a zero-tier testing system.


  1. I can't believe Fryer said that in 2012. It's beyond appalling. What a smug, entitled-feeling, elitist jerk.

  2. You can't justify shutting them down and privatizing them without those poor test scores.