Testing Backlash
   The pendulum is rapidly swinging away from the overtesting that U.S. schools have suffered for the last 18 years under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  For nearly two decades, no classroom teacher dared question the imposition of external testing that supposedly enforced “teacher accountability.” Now the spectrum of education media outlets are running headlines disparaging the terrible damage of external testing. Some states are facing the threat of lawsuits unless they end high stakes tests.

    According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, over 20 states have already reduced or eliminated standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations. The weakness of such a measure was long known to teachers who realized that scores would be higher in classes in an affluent district with a mediocre teacher, than in a poverty district with a superb teacher.

    NCLB also came with the requirement that all students would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, a requirement that reflected a total lack of contact with classroom reality on the part of reformers.

    Unfortunately, this delayed recognition by administrators and lawmakers will not retrieve the excellent teachers who left teaching because they refused to convert to teaching-to-the-test or became fed up with being blamed for every student’s failure.

    Meanwhile, the Marietta school district is one of nine districts in Georgia that next school year will phase out end-of-year tests, and begin using “through-year” assessment to collect data throughout the year. Veteran teachers are again rolling their eyes at a concept formulated from above by know-nothing administrators and legislators. Simply, different disciplines involve different skills. A course in history or science will involve learning a set of distinct episodes or concepts and an accumulation of tests will average that learning across the course. But learning math or to play music builds a lock-step skill where the final level of performance is legitimately the final measure.  

    For decades the gatekeeper for entry into New York City’s elite high schools such as Stuyvesant High has been a test. In the last two years, Mayor DeBlasio has discovered that up to 70 percent of their students are Asian-Americans who generally study extra hard as part of their cultural “success frame,” as described in Lee and Zhou’s “The Asian American Achievement Paradox.” The discussion of minorities suppressed by unequal educational opportunity is changed to “under-represented minorities” because Asian-American students are dramatically over-represented. DeBlasio couches his efforts as an intent to “integrate” the New York elite schools, as if this imbalance was driven by racial prejudice. If testing is discounted in future enrollment into New York’s elite schools, a large number of high-scoring Asian-American students will be denied and these schools will be more populated with lesser-performing students, again riding the anti-testing backlash.

    Higher education media report that lawyers representing a range of civil-rights and college-access organizations have just announced they plan to sue the University of California system unless it drops its ACT and SAT requirements. These measures of student aptitude, not academic achievement, are among 14 factors those universities consider in evaluating applicants, and are usually the second best predictor of college success behind high school grade point average. The basis for the lawsuit is that affluent students have access to test-coaching that economically poor student do not. However, advantages of test-coaching are relatively small and related to familiarity with the test format. High school teachers cannot teach-to-these tests because they measure aptitude, not achievement.

    The rationale for such complaints is that under-represented minorities are placed at a disadvantage by such tests. This again ignores Asian-American students who are over-represented and perform higher on both aptitude and achievement tests than other minorities or the national white majority. More states have moved to offering the ACT or SAT to all students without charge, finding this reveals to some students that they have a higher aptitude for some academics that they did not realize.  

    Moving tests back into the hands of classroom teachers would help restore teacher professionalism. Unfortunately, many new teachers produced during the NCLB era received no education in developing and using valid and reliable tests. Schools of Education supported NCLB and many dropped their “Tests-and-Measurements” classes.  The damage from NCLB and its test backlash continues. 

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