Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Testing Cloak

Count this among the many bad side effects of test-centered schools. Test results can be a lovely curtain used to cloak a multitude of ills.

A school with decent test scores, either by themselves or translated into whatever sort of rating shenanigans used by your state, can deploy those scores as a shiny curtain. "Don't look behind this at whatever else we're doing to your child's education! Just look at these bee-yoo-tee-ful scores! Proof that we are a great school!"

Cut the arts? Downsize every department? Eat up a third of the year with test prep tests and plain old test prep? Beat down staff morale? Close the library? Fire support staff?

Just wave that beautiful cloak!

Test-centered schools are education reduced to one simple job-- get students to score well on a single narrow Big Standardized Test. And reducing education to that one simple job absolves schools and districts (and states-- looking at you, Florida) from having to do half-decent work on any of the other jobs that we used to associate with education.

For schools run by data-driven administrators, or administrators who are not committed to the full picture, or even administrators who are facing severe financial pressures, the testing cloak is a godsend, a piece of helpful protective cover. "We may be gutting the system, but hey-- look at our test scores!"

That's why the reaction to any school's tale of its lovely test scores has to be the same--

"Very nice scores-- but what did it cost you to get them? "

If the answer is, "Why nothing! We just aligned the curriculum and voila-- test scores!"-- well, this answer is a lie.Keep asking what the lovely cloak cost, because it certainly wasn't free, and it probably wasn't cheap. Make sure you get to see what's behind the curtain.


  1. https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/01/29/581036306/in-d-c-thirty-four-percent-of-graduates-received-a-diploma-against-district-poli

    Washington Teachers Union President Liz Davis about the survey. "Perverse incentives, high-stakes tests and a highly subjective performance evaluation system drive principals and teachers to do not what is best for students, but what makes our schools look good on a narrow set of indicators."

  2. Hell, they're not even better test takers. Just more disinterested in school than ever. And can you blame the test-prepped generation for losing their love for testing. We were forced to sell the test score as the "end" instead of an incidental mean toward becoming well rounded, well educated young adults. Shame on us all.

  3. So my rural SC high school was selected to participate in the NAEP testing next month. Specifically, around 40 of our seniors are going to take it. The ones in my class specifically that were asked to take it and had to go to a meeting today with an administrator to be told about it...well, let's just say that I'm pretty unconvinced that no one that requires these tests actually has ever faced a group of seniors with 80 days left before graduation. In short order I heard: "Yep, I'm skipping that day." "What can they do to us if we don't take it?" "What is NAEP?" "What if I take it but I mark C all the way down my paper?" "Are they giving us anything for taking it?" Yep, "The Nation's Report Card" my ass.

    1. Hey LSmith...I taught at Allendale-Fairfax HS for a year back in '83-'84!

      Your students' responses reflect one point: The reformers LOVE "market forces" when it comes to upper admin, BUT they seem to not be cognizant that those forces also are at play when it comes to finding teachers OR having students perform on bullshit tests.

      "Are they giving us anything for taking it?" This dude (or dudette) had the perfect response.

    2. We've dealt with three rounds of NAEP tests at our school in the last six years. Guess what they give the kids? An NAEP pencil and a "certificate of public service." Really. The kids are always unimpressed.