Ed Reform 101: Testing

Blue Jersey’s Ed Reform 101

Part 1 – Standardized Testing Myths

Ed Reform 101In the world of the corporate reformer, standardized testing drives everything.

Judging teachers, principals, schools, and students; merit pay, tenure, and layoffs; allocating money; granting charters… it all starts with standardized testing. And it’s an article of faith among the corporate “reform” set that standardized tests are fair, accurate, inexpensive, and good for students.

The people who actually study this issue and work with children, however, know that nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a place for standardized testing in New Jersey, but it is inappropriate to use standardized tests in high-stakes decisions that affect teachers and students. We can’t measure a child’s learning or a teacher’s effectiveness when we put so much emphasis on secretive tests that are flawed in their construction, administration, and grading.

Yet almost every proposal put forward by the corporate reformers relies heavily on children filling in bubbles on a sheet of paper. So let’s start this series by taking apart the myths about standardized testing.

What you should know about standardized testing:

  • Standardized tests are typically imprecise, unreliable, and biased against the poor and minorities.

  • Too much emphasis on testing makes teachers focus only on what’s tested and encourages cheating.

  • Standardized tests are expensive, but they are graded by low-skilled, low-paid workers.

  • Student test scores are a poor way to evaluate teachers.

    and worst of all..

  • Too much standardized testing is bad for kids.

    (We encourage you to klick through all of these links: you’ll find some great information to help you arrive at your own conclusions.)

    Myth: Standardized tests are very accurate measures of student learning.

    The Truth: Standardized tests are incomplete and often inaccurate measures of learning.

    – Psychologists and education researchers agree: even the best standardized tests can only measure a small fraction of a child’s learning.

    Multiple-choice tests are especially “poor tools for measuring the ability to synthesize and evaluate information or apply knowledge to complex problems.”

    Myth: Standardized tests aren’t biased; they treat all students equally.

    The Truth: Standardized tests are often biased and unfair.

    – As FairTest, a national testing research and advocacy group, points out: “The damage created by high-stakes testing compounds rather than ameliorates the huge inequities caused by poverty and continuing racism.”

    A Stanford University study shows that standardized tests unfairly reinforce stereotypes minority and female students have of their intellectual ability.

    Myth: Standardized tests don’t change the way teachers teach.

    The Truth: Standardized tests lead to “drill-and-kill” teaching.

    – As the stakes get higher, teachers are prodded to “teach to the test.”

    – Teachers agree that standardized testing is taking time away from teaching important lessons in civics and other topics that are not – and could not be – covered by tests.

    Myth: Standardized tests are graded by well-trained professionals.

    The Truth: Tests are often graded by poorly trained and low-paid workers.

    – Standardized tests are usually written and graded by low-paid, low-skilled amateurs.

    Testing companies have advertised for item writers at the rate of $8 a question on Craig’s List.

    – Other reports confirm that test scorers usually make between $11 and $13 per hour.

    Myth: Standardized tests are inexpensive, they don’t drain dollars away from classrooms, and we have a good idea of what they cost.

    The truth: Standardized tests are expensive and NJ has never run a cost/benefit analysis to determine their worth.

    – The nationwide state-testing business is a billion dollar industry.

    – The Interim Report of the NJ Educator Effectiveness Task Force does not include a cost/benefit analysis of its implied plan to expand testing.

    – Only about 20% of the current teaching corps could be evaluated using current tests.

    Myth: Cheating on standardized tests is a small problem that can be contained with a few extra measures.

    The Truth: Cheating on standardized tests is running rampant, and even a huge investment of money into test security won’t stop it. Reports of cheating include New York City, Atlanta, Washington D.C. (while the district was run by the darling of corporate reform, Michelle Rhee), New Jersey, Texas, California and Pennsylvania.

    – It will undoubtedly cost much more than the current $18 million yearly contract to secure these tests, and local districts will face yet another unfunded mandate.

    Myth: Standardized tests are useful even for the youngest children.

    The Truth: Children under age eight should NOT take standardized tests.

    – Experts agree that standardized tests for children younger than eight are unreliable, unnecessary, and counterproductive (p.41).

    – The National Research Council cautions: “In general, large-scale assessments should not be used to make high-stakes decisions about students who are less than 8 years old or enrolled below grade 3.”

    Myth: Standardized tests are an excellent way to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness.

    The Truth: Standardized tests are a terrible way to evaluate teachers. More on this later in this series.

    For more information on standardized tests, we recommend:

  • www.fairtest.org

    Next in our series: Teacher Quality

    Tuesday, 8/30/11: Standardized Testing

    Wednesday, 8/31/11: Teacher Quality

    Thursday, 9/1/11: Merit Pay, Seniority & Tenure

    Friday, 9/2/11: Teachers Unions

    Sunday, 9/4/11: Charter Schools & Vouchers

    Tuesday, 9/6/11: Recap

  • Comments (25)

    1. William Weber (WjcW)

      They never say why they are discriminatory.

      They make this completely circular argument… decades of research has shown low income and minority students score lower on standardized tests. But why?

      Why do they score lower? They never address it.

      They just say that because they score lower, the tests are discriminatory, based on the fact that those groups of students score lower.

      Does that make any sense?

      Or doesn’t that matter?

    2. the_promised_land

      NJ has had standardized testing forever. I remember taking CTBS standardized tests back when I was going to public school in the 80s.

      So how do they get to be the new thing and a big deal? And why do some people think that something that has been around so long is so critical to improving school quality?

    3. HurtPillow

      The old college educated people writing the tests just do not KNOW the diversity in the state.  The first grade test had the word ‘cupboard’ on it and that is not a word in their vocabulary.  This begs the question, if the tests were skewed with the vocabulary and experiences of urban youth, how would white suburbia fare?  This is one limited example of a systemic issue in the testing genre…  Yes, tests are now a literacy genre according to the Literacy Collaborative.  How sad is that?

    4. Mazel tov to Blue Jersey for this series and to Jersey Jazzman for an amazing kickoff.  

      As some of you know, I personally (speaking only for myself here and not any organization) have mixed feelings on the topics that the series will cover.  For instance, I would support the increased use of standardized testing IF it could be made fair for disadvantaged students and for all the other reasons Jersey Jazzman has presented.  I recognize, too, that may not be possible.  

      Regarding topics later in the week, I do have problems with lifetime tenure in any profession that serves the public.  I believe there is more room for accountability.

      BUT:  I also recognize a great series and a great article.  I found Jersey Jazzman’s piece here to be thoughtful and so well laid out – concise and direct points that are reader-friendly and and very thought-provoking.  Certainly made me think – so thank you, thank you, thank you.  

      With appreciation, Steven


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