Monday, August 4, 2014

Time to Dethrone Testing from Its Godly Position in Public Education

"We would like to dethrone measurement from its godly position, to reveal the false god it has been. We want instead to offer measurement a new job—that of helpful servant. We want to use measurement to give us the kind and quality of feedback that supports and welcomes people to step forward with their desire to contribute, to learn, and to achieve." Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time
Want to know what's wrong with testing and accountability today? It's more about a "gotcha game" than really trying to help teachers improve their craft. Over and over ad nauseam, those pushing these tests talk about using test data to improve teaching and thereby student learning, but that's not what is happening at all.

In American education, despite what many testing and accountability advocates say, testing is driving our education system. Decision after decision is based on what will "produce the best test scores." What's wrong with that? Nothing at all, if those tests truly and accurately capture worthwhile learning, but sadly, our quest for the "Holy Grail" of tests has not been productive. All the tests and bubble sheets we subject students to are incapable of capturing real learning. I don't have the same faith in testing that many educators have. There will never be a test, nor a set of standards that saves education.

I suggest that we do as Wheatley suggests in her book Finding Our Way. Let's "dethrone measurement," in this case testing and reveal that it is a "false god." We've had well over 10 years of "test worship" and absolutely nothing to show for it. No Child Left Behind began elevating testing to deity levels, and Race to the Top has only elevated testing even higher, to the point that we're now deciding the fate of teacher assistants, teacher careers, student promotions, even the status of whole schools based on single test scores. We have made "tests" our crystal balls through which we can identify a bad teacher or bad school. We have test scores to tell us how much impact a kindergarten teacher might have on future earnings. Really? Do we really believe in the power of tests and the power of data that much?

We do need to dethrone testing a bit and make it a servant of good education rather than the dictator it has become. I'm afraid that won't happen until this fundamental faith in the infallibility of test scores ends. Let's hope our education system isn't destroyed first.

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