Has Testing Reached a Tipping Point? (Part Deux)

It appears I was premature.

Exactly one year ago, in an article for the SmartBlog on Education, I asked: “Are we witnessing the early signs of a sea change in how we think about the best ways to measure student learning and growth?”

What a difference a year makes.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, there were three different articles about the growing anti-testing movement, and the looming fight here in Washington over what role testing should play in the next iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was most recently rechristened No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

On the Opinion page, NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz reported on the growing opt-out movement across the country — and outlined how other parents can join the fight.

In the front section, education reporter Lyndsey Layton spoke about a speech U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan will give this morning, at an elementary school in D.C. Tops on the agenda? Preparing us for the looming battle over ESEA’s future in Congress — and steeling us to recalibrate how we use tests, as opposed to discarding their use altogether.

And then, in the Metro section, Moriah Balingit and T. Rees Shapiro shared the story of an elementary school in Virginia that has experienced dramatic test score gains for its third graders — and is left to wonder if the ends have justified the means. “I just knew it’s a part of the game,” said teacher Carissa Krane. “There has to be a way to be accountable, and this is the way that our country’s decided we’re going to hold kids accountable and the teachers accountable.”

Later in the article, University of Virginia education professor Tanya Moon sounded a similar note. Moon, who specializes in assessment, thinks the testing movement has gone too far. “I believe that everybody should be held accountable for their jobs,” she said, “but there are lots of things that kids bring into schools that schools can’t do anything about and yet the schools are held accountable.”

So, I repeat, one year later: has testing reached a tipping point? And is there a way to maintain the original spirit of accountability — to one another, for another, in the service of a greater, more legitimate quest for equity and equal opportunity — while also repairing the ways in which our efforts to build accountability have narrowed our view on what matters most?

Stay tuned for what promises to be an eventful, significant year.


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  1. Posted January 12, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    What surely started out as a good idea, or at least an idea with some merit (testing), has morphed into an educational system hindered by an ineffective, circular, teach-to-the-test process that leaves both our teachers and (especially) our students with the very short end of every stick.

    Didn’t teachers use to be evaluated differently? Didn’t principals make evaluative and regular-often seemingly unplanned- visits to their classrooms to assess how each teacher was doing with their students?

    I realize a classroom visit does not specifically assess the children’s learning (in terms of what they are absorbing), but neither do the kinds of tests currently used in our public school system. How a teacher teaches is equally (if not more) important than what s/he teaches. If we could measure a child’s enthusiasm for learning, (oh, gosh, we can) we would realize that this is more than half the battle toward preparing children for productive, educated lives.

    Weren’t teachers aware of their students struggles and successes, and therefore able to spend time with them (smaller classrooms) to correct and/or encourage them? And weren’t teachers less afraid to have a disciplinary system that worked inside the classroom and was not subject to parental interference (inappropriate discipline notwithstanding)?

    Have we become so narrow-minded in our evaluation of teachers, students, and the classroom in general, that we have lost sight of what it means for students to be engaged in subjects that interest them (I’m not talking about unschooling..though I know many who do it successfully). I’m talking about discussions that include tangential discussion as a learning tool (but there’s no time or space for that anymore), about teachers who could morph, on the spot (yes, teachers are that talented) a lesson to fit a particularly interesting segue.

    Teachers used to be given the freedom to create classrooms that reflected their individual talents and their immense passion for the subject of helping children learn. They taught the basics (which included science and art as main subjects) without having to cookie-cut their lessons to fit arbitrary standards. I remember teachers who were able to tailor-make certain facets of class to fit the individual talents of their students as well; they didn’t have to march to a homogenous beat. As a first grader, I left class for twenty minutes a couple of times a week to read to the kindergartners. My teacher was unconcerned about what I missed in class, wisely giving me the opportunity to excel at something I was good at while also interacting with my “youngers.”

    Oh there is so much to be said on this topic, and I have not done it well enough. My fervent hope is that the United States public education system will be rebuilt from the inside out, without a political or financial agenda that hinders the process from the get-go. Has our educational malaise become so engrained in our economic system that it is as difficult to revamp it as it would be to eliminate the use of unhealthy ingredients in mass-marketed food sources? Perhaps it has. Perhaps we have reached the point where our whole society would collapse if we…gasp…thought about what might actually be best for our children.

  2. Posted January 12, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Britton. I think you’re right that the central issue is narrow-mindedness, and so the central challenge is finding a way to maintain our commitment to be accountable to one another’s children that actually expands our definition of student success, instead of constricting it.

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