Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The value (or lack thereof) in testing

This morning, a reader wrote:
Test scores are the only thing that matter. They tell us what has been learned and retained by a student. All this nonsense ridiculing test scores is from the same folks who ridicule drills as "drill and kill." Laurie, you have bought into the liberal mindset of the educrats who we have hired to administrate our district. How unfortunate for our students that you abhor critical thinking.

My response:

Au contraire, mon frere!
(Sorry, I could not resist)
It is precisely because I do not abhor critical thinking that I can argue against your narrow belief that “test scores are the only thing that matter.” (I do, however, abhor the word abhor, and other such hyperbole, on my blog.)

First, let’s address the specific issue in question – whether test scores are the best (or “only”) way to judge a textbook’s value. My point was that the textbook alone is not the only variable influencing scores. Do you completely discount the influence of teachers? Do you not believe there are good teachers and bad teachers? Does it make no difference if students spend 20 minutes per day vs. 90 minutes per day on math? What about other materials, aka supplementation? What about tutoring? What about the students themselves? Don’t they play into this equation at all? The members of Ridgewood’s Math Planning Team listed student achievement (in other districts) as one of the criteria to consider when evaluating the textbooks, but they decided as a group that it would not be the #1 criterion. I think that makes sense, and this whole paragraph is an example of me using “critical thinking” on the topic.

As for the value of testing in general...well, I’ve sort of addressed it above, haven’t I? Standardized tests don’t measure much besides test-taking ability. They do not show how students are learning, what they are learning, what kinds of help they might need or the quality of teaching they are receiving. They don’t measure the ability to think or create or use the critical thinking of which you are so enamored.

The standardized tests that our children are subject to in 2009 are based on behaviorist psychological theories of the 19th century. In the past 100+ years, cognitive and developmental psychologists have come to understand that people learn by connecting what they already know with what they are trying to learn – not by recalling isolated facts and narrow skills.

Relying on standardized test scores is the easy way out, the lazy way, and the political way, via misguided efforts like No Child Left Behind. Standardized tests are also the dangerous way, dangerous to education in general. As schools feel more and more pressure to focus on test scores, we are pressured to narrow curriculum to match the tests. And if you're looking for a way to ensure accountability, the tests our kids take really make our schools accountable to one thing only: the test companies.

Want to hear something interesting? Singapore’s education officials have been studying U.S. schools, with a special interest in reducing their emphasis on standardized tests and increasing their use of authentic assessment. (More to come on this topic.)

Finally, I’m not going to take your bait on the “liberal mindset” criticism...politics should have no place in education. Why do you folks always fall back on that?

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