The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better by Daniel Koretz

Testing Charade

The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better by Daniel Koretz covers the unintended negative consequences of the test-based school and teacher accountability system forced on schools by federal legislation. In addition to outright cheating, he also points out how test prep leads to bad teaching and how non tested subjects are given short shrift. As policymakers remain in denial about the failure of this system, it is works like this that give us hope.

1. Beyond All Reason

  • Pressure to raise scores on achievement tests dominates American education today. In this book Daniel Koretz shows how it has lead to cheating, cutting corners with test prep that features bad instruction, and failure. Teacher evaluation is a mess with some teachers being judged by scores from students they didn’t teach. Test prep has lead to score inflation that is not echoed on NEAP tests. NCLB was a train wreck waiting to happen and it’s replacement, ESSA, is only a small step in the right direction. This book should help us all redouble our efforts to fight a system that has had a large negative impact on our national education system.

2. What Is a Test?

  • Achievement tests are like political polls in that they only test a small portion of the domain represented by the course or grade level. Most of the domain remains untested. Tests focus on factual knowledge as it is easy to test. Some things like critical thinking and problem-solving can be assessed, but not by standardized tests. Sampling content to be tested has three consequences. First is the error or uncertainty of the resulting scores. This can result in scores varying wildly from year to year for a given teacher. Second is that the sample skills tested are not fully representative of the entire domain.
  • The final and biggest consequence is that even the test makers warn that test scores should only supplement all of the other assessments teachers use. Unfortunately, such warnings are ignored by policymakers or never heard in the first place. This leads to many teachers only teaching the tested content while depriving students of other useful instruction.

3. The Evolution of Test-Based “Reform”

  • In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation At Risk, that viewed our education system as containing a rising tide of mediocracy noting short school years, a weak teaching force, and undemanding curricula. This seems to have initiated the push toward state-mandated testing. This shifted the focus away from holding students accountable for scores to using students’ scores to hold educators accountable.
  • In the 1990s the pay-and-punish approach became popular where schools were rewarded or punished as a result of test scores. In 2002 NCLB made this system national in scope. Schools were required to make Adequate Yearly Progress for all student groups of significant size. Obama’s administration made things worse by tying test scores to teacher evaluations. Due to gridlock in Washington, NCLB wasn’t updated until 2015 with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This gives states more flexibility, which may make things better at least in some states. The focus on test scores will most likely remain.
  • The system fails for three reasons. 1) It focuses on a narrow slice of practice and outcomes. 2) It is a very high-pressure system. 3) There is no room for human judgment. Teaching is far too complex a job to evaluate without any judgment, and many things we value in schools aren’t captured by tests. If expectations were too low prior to 1983, it’s clear that today expectations are unrealistic for many of the students the laws were designed to help.
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